In the two weeks since the “staff meeting” Buz had with Vern Tate, cargo operations at the freight yard were running smooth. Unbeknownst to Buz, the alliance the two men had formed would prove to be even more pivotal for matters outside the freight yard. On Monday morning, during a brief lull while the yard crew waited for the next tractor trailer to arrive to pick up a container, Vern approached Buz.

“Mistah Murdock?”

Buz turned from the shanty to Vern.

“Did I see you at the track on Saturday?”

Buz chuckled. “Yeah, I was there.”

“With Mistah Stiles?”

“Yep. We got a car we’re gonna put in a race.”

“Your Corvette?”

“No that got stolen, unfortunately. We picked up a nice Bel Air on Saturday.”

“Stolen?”

“Yeah. Last week. We think we know who did it.”

“Who?”

Buz paused. “You ever heard of Silas Doyle?”

Vern gave a snort. “Yeah, I heard of ‘em. No good sonofa…. He’da been my guess on takin’ your car. That’s the kind he specializes in.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Fancy cars and sports cars. My kid—“ Vern paused, looking at Buz, deciding whether or not to reveal more. “My kid brother used t’ work for ‘em.”

“Used to?”

Vern paused. “He’s a lousy employer.” He looked at Buz. “What makes ya think he’s got yer car?”

“Well, on Saturday when Tod and I went looking for a new car we went to one of Doyle’s dealerships. Guess what we found sitting on the lot?”

“Yer kidding?”

Buz shook his head. “When we went back later with a cop, the car was gone. So, Tod and I figure to take the car back from him somehow. We entered Doyle’s race to have an excuse to hang around the track.”

“You entered the Skull Cracker?”

“Yeah. Ah, don’t tell me. Tod and I are crazy?”

Vern laughed. “The way you fight, I dunno I wanna see what y’all do to that track!” Vern lightly touched his chin, showing a faded bruise from Buz’s right cross.

Buz laughed.

“It’s a tough race tho’. Y’all raced before?”

“Tod has. I’m just the chief gopher and coffee getter.”

“Y’all ain’t got a pit crew?”

Buz shook his head.

Vern rolled his eyes. “How ya gonna change four tires and put gas in that car for Mistah Stiles in less than a minute?”

Buz knew it was ridiculous, but he and Tod hadn’t thought that far out yet. He could only grin. “I guess Tod will have to get out of the car and help.”

Vern shook his head. “Damn Yankees…”

At the lunch break, Buz called Tod and asked him to come down to the yard to talk to Vern. They gathered at a parked, empty boxcar and sat in the open side doorway.

“I’ll admit, I hadn’t given much thought to a pit crew,” Tod said. “I’ll be lucky I qualify to run the race anyway.”

“Why?” Vern asked. “What’s wrong with the car?”

“Well, nothing really but if I’m going to run it at 130 miles an hour I have to make some mods to it. I ran it stock Saturday, it tops out at 100.”

“How come you didn’t get an Impala?”

“We weren’t originally looking for a race car. We were just looking for something to get us where we need to go.”

Vern nodded. “Well, I’d like to offer to help y’all. I can round up a few fellas for a pit crew too. Silas Doyle ain’t on my Christmas list and if you boys are gonna go up against him, I want a front row seat.”

Tod glanced at Buz and then nodded at Vern. “All right. I’ll need some help with the mods to the car, do you happen to know anybody who can fabricate a roll bar?”

Vern nodded. “No problem, I can get that for ya. You’ll have to weld it in yourself though.”

“I can do that,” Buz said.

Tod nodded. “I’ll have to modify the exhaust on it too but I can’t do that yet or else the car won’t be legal to drive on the street.”

“My cousin can help with the exhaust,” Vern said. “Since y’all are gonna weld that roll bar in yourself, he can help ya with a kit for the exhaust, part of that you’ll have to weld together.”

Tod looked at Buz, who nodded. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”

“What are you planning for engine mods?” Vern asked. “You swapping the headers?”

“No, just upgrading the carburetor, the plugs and the air filter. Don’t have time or the money for a total overhaul.”

Vern nodded. “Well, with that much at least, you won’t finish dead last.”

Tod was grateful for the offer to help and when the lunch break ended and the gathered workers headed back to their jobs, Tod paused at the shanty to talk to Buz. He watched as Vern walked past and then turned to Buz. “How does he know Doyle?”

“Said his kid brother used to work for him.”

“Doing what?”

Buz shook his head. “I don’t know. When I asked why his brother didn’t work for Doyle anymore all Vern said was that Doyle was a lousy employer.”

Over the next few nights, Tod and Buz worked on the car. The first big job was to swap the carburetor and while Tod worked on that Buz worked on removing the back seat and preparing for installing the roll bar when they got one.

It took Tod about forty minutes to swap the two barrel carb out and put the four barrel in.  Once everything was all connected back up he asked Buz to start the car.

When Buz turned the key, the starter fired but the engine wouldn’t catch. Undeterred, Tod said to try it once more.

The engine still wouldn’t catch.

“Hang on,” Tod said. He took a moment to make some adjustments. “Ok, try it now.”

Buz turned the key, the starter fired and then finally the engine caught and turned over. A healthy sounding roar filled the garage. Buz looked at Tod and grinned revving the engine a little. “They didn’t teach you that at Yale!”

“Nope.” Tod grinned as Buz revved the engine again.

“Barely touch the gas now and she’s ready to go,” Buz said.

“Yeah. She won’t have to work so hard to get past 100 miles an hour on the track.”

With the carb swap a success, changing the plugs and installing stainless steel lines in the engine were next. On Tuesday, Vern Tate told Buz that he’d have the roll bar for their car, all cut and bend to specs to fit the Bel Air, by Friday and he would deliver it to Jepsons garage for them.

So Tod and Buz spent Tuesday and Wednesday night, installing the new plugs and the stainless steel lines and then making adjustments to the timing and fuel mixture.

When they drove back to Mrs. Gebhardt’s Wednesday night, even Buz could sense the car was running smoother and better from when they first bought it.

“I know,” Tod said. “If we had the time and money, I’d swap out the headers and the cam shaft too, really make this thing fly.”

Buz grinned. “So other than getting that roll bar welded in, what do we have left to do?”

“Just the exhaust, which we can do next week before the race.”

“Can you run it at the track this weekend like you did before?”

“Yeah. There’s another test and tune session on Saturday.”

“Perfect.”

Since Tod had the engine mods finished and the roll bar wouldn’t be coming until Friday night, the boys took a well-deserved night off on Thursday and went to The King nightclub.

When they got there, all the tables at the front near the stage were filled. They found a table at the back of the lounge near the bar.  Vicky smiled at both of them when she came to the table to take their orders.

Buz glanced back at the bar to see that Jerry was out of ear shot and then looked at Vicky. “I’m serious about going for coffee you know.”

Vicky smiled. “Buz…”

“I know, I know. Can’t date the customers. Well, look, I can quit being a customer.”

“I’d still get in trouble,” she said.

“Wouldn’t I be worth it?”

In the dimly lit lounge, Buz couldn’t see her face flush a little. “Yeah,” she said. “You might be.” She turned and left the table to get their drinks.

Buz’s grin was a mile wide. Tod chuckled and just shook his head.

After Diane’s show, Tod waited a few minutes and then left the table and headed for the hall way to the left of the stage. There, he waited for her, smoking a cigarette to pass the time.

She emerged several minutes later, her gaze held downward as she walked.

“Diane?”

She stopped, looking at him and briefly looked frightened, raising her hand up to her chest as if looking to catch her heart. “Tod…”

He smiled. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you…” His gaze went to the bracelet she wore on her wrist and his smile faded.

Diane lowered her hand and smiled awkwardly. “It’s okay. Usually the bouncers don’t let customers in the hall here…”

Tod took her hand, still looking at the jewelry and then at her. “This looks like the bracelet you lost in the car…” he said.

She could have laughed and said ‘no, silly, this is a different one!’ but she said nothing. The guilt on her face confused Tod. Diane lowered her gaze and took her hand from him, turning to walk away back to her dressing room.  

He stepped ahead blocking her retreat. She refused to meet his gaze to see the shock and confusion in his green eyes and there was no attempt to excuse or explain or cover up or lie. Her silence confirmed his thought and stunned him.

“Diane…is it? How’d you get it back?”

She shook her head continuing to avoid looking at him. “Look, Tod, get out of here. This is no place for you to be.”

“You set me up…?” he said, not completely understanding the conclusion.

“Tod, please, just go.”

“I want to know why.”

“I ask myself that same question.” She glanced at him now. “Look, I’m sorry. You wouldn’t understand. The way things are here. I had to...”

“You had to? For what? Why?”

“I have to survive!” she hissed. Now she looked at him, suddenly full of anger. “And I was doing just fine until you showed up!” She stormed off.

Tod started after her but a couple of bouncers had appeared in the hall behind Diane as they were talking and the moved to block Tod from going any further.

“Customers ain’t allowed back here,” one of the bouncers, a big burly looking fellow said.

Tod contemplated taking on both bouncers right then and there, he was angry enough to. But he didn’t and instead turned and left the hall returning to the table.

Buz looked up and saw darkened expression on Tod’s face. “What’s the matter?”

Tod dug into his pocket for money and left a couple of bills on the table. “I gotta go.” He handed the key to the Bel Air to Buz. “I’ll take a cab or walk or something. I gotta get out of here.”

“Tod, what is it?”

Tod shook his head. “I’ll tell you later. After I cool off.” He headed for the exit.

Buz watched Tod go. Something wasn’t right. He wondered if Diane had burned Tod but with the brisk way his buddy walked, and the tense set to his shoulders, it indicated that Tod was extremely angry about something. If he’d been dumped, Tod would have just simply moped along out of the club.

Buz stood up and added his money to the table and followed out after Tod.

Outside the door, Buz looked in both directions of the side walk. He spotted Tod and hurried to catch up.

“Tod? Tod, wait up…” Buz came to fall in step beside his friend. “What happened? Don’t tell me she burned you.”

“Oh yeah, she burned me all right. Real good.” Tod stopped walking and looked at Buz. “She set me up. She set me up to have the ‘vette stolen, that’s how she burned me.”

Buz blinked. “What?!

Tod nodded. “When I drove her to her apartment after dinner that night, she had a bracelet on her wrist that fell off, the clasp was loose. It ended up somewhere on the floor of the car. We tried to find it when we got to her place but it was dark and the flashlight in the glove box wasn’t working very well, I couldn’t find it. Tonight I see her with the same bracelet on again. She admitted it, Buz. She admitted to setting me up!”

“But why?!”

“I don’t know, I didn’t get that much out of her! She started giving me some sob story about how she had to do it, that I wouldn’t understand how things were here and that she had to do what she did to survive. To survive! What am I supposed to make of that?!”

“I don’t even know what to make of that,” Buz said. “I can’t believe she had anything to do with it, it doesn’t make sense!”

Tod threw his hands up and shook his head. “I don’t know, Buz.”

“C’mon,” Buz said suddenly, tugging Tod’s jacket sleeve. “We’re going to get some answers right now.”

Tod and Buz returned to the club and moved quickly and smoothly through the full lounge area. Tod led the way and they maneuvered through the tables and to the left of the stage, heading to the back.

They went through a door and were half way down a hall when they were stopped by one of the club’s bouncers, the same big burly one that had shoo’d Tod away a few minutes earlier. “Listen, I already told you you’re not supposed to be back here.”

“I need to see Diane,” Tod said.

The bouncer chuckled. “You come back and see her tomorrow night when she goes out to sing again. Meantime, nobody’s allowed back here so beat it.”

“Look, this is important.”

“That’s what they all say. Now I’m not telling you again. Get out of here. Both of you.”

There was a moment’s stare down, then Tod put his hands up in a surrender gesture and started to turn to leave – then suddenly turned right back and tried to push past the bouncer.

The move surprised even Buz, who suddenly jumped to try to deflect the bouncer so Tod could get away. The bouncer grabbed Tod and Buz attempted to break the hold. Buz had fought some tough guys in his time, but this bouncer was the size of a commercial refrigerator. The man slugged Tod in the stomach and then turned to Buz and smacked a rock solid right cross to Buz’s jaw.

The blow sent Buz flailing into the wall where he caught himself. From somewhere more bouncers showed up and Tod and Buz were grabbed up and hauled down the hall way to the back exit.

Tod was trying to stay on his feet, stay upright and catch his breath. Buz fought against the grip of the two bouncers who were escorting him. The back alley door was pushed open and the two friends were shoved and thrown out, both landing in the pile of trash and discarded cardboard boxes. The door was then slammed shut.

The noise and spectacle didn’t go unnoticed by Diane. She had opened her dressing room door just as Tod and Buz were dragged by and she had seen them be pushed out the back door.

“Couple o’ guys trying to see you,” the head bouncer, Dusty, told her as he and his boys were coming back down the hall. “We took care of ‘em, Miss Lovely don’t worry.”

Diane nodded. “Thanks, Dusty.” The bouncers headed back to the lounge and Diane looked at the back alley door for a long moment. She then returned to her dressing room, closing the door.

In the alley, Buz sat up kicking a box out of the way and rubbing his jaw. “Southern hospitality…” he grumbled.

Tod pushed a box away and got to his knees, oxygen now returning to his lungs in full.

“You ok?” Buz asked.

Tod nodded. “Breathing…helps…”

Buz got up and helped Tod up off his knees. “C’mon,” Buz said. “If we try that again we’re going to need a battle plan…”

To figure out a battle plan, they first had to better understand the enemy. And the only person they knew who seemed to know anything about Silas Doyle was Vern Tate. The trick was getting Vern to talk more about him.

Friday morning, during a lull in cargo pick up, Vern asked Buz how the car was coming.

“Coming good. Tod’s got all the mods to the engine done and we’re just waiting on the roll bar.”

“I’ll have that for you tonight.” Vern looked at Buz’s face, seeing the fresh bruise. “What the hell happened to you?”

“What? Oh… Tod and I got thrown out of a nightclub last night.”

Vern snorted. “Which one?”

“Place called The King.”

Vern paused. “The King? Y’all don’t mess around do you?”

“What do you mean?”

“That’s the club Doyle owns.”

“Doyle?” Buz paused as it sunk in and then slowly nodded. “Nowww it’s starting to make sense…”

“What?”

“Tod and I started going there a few weeks ago. We both dug the lady singer only she dug Tod more than me and…we just figured out last night how the Corvette got stolen. Now you tell me Doyle owns the club and the pieces start to fit.”

Vern nodded. “Diane. And that wasn’t the first time she’s baited somebody for their car.”

“Vern, tell me everything you know about Silas Doyle. Do you have an idea where Tod’s Corvette might be?”

Vern shook his head. “I didn’t work for the man. My brother Cecil did. He took me t’ the club a couple of times, wanted me t’ get outta workin’ here and go work for Doyle.” Vern shook his head. “Jazz music ain’t my thing. But I remember Diane. And I remember Cecil tellin’ me how when they spotted a customer with a sports car, they’d use Diane to set the guy up for a date and then steal his car. That’s what they did t’ Mistah Stiles ain’t it?”

“Yeah. Only Tod fell for her, you know? And finding out she set him up last night burned him up pretty bad. Vern, is there any way we could talk to your brother?”

“I’m afraid not Mistah Murdock.”

There was an awkward pause. Buz had at least two reasons why going through his head.

Vern confirmed one of them. “He’s dead.”

“I’m sorry…”

Vern shook his head. “Not as sorry as Silas Doyle should be.”

“What happened, Vern?”

“Don’t matter now, he’s dead.” Vern looked at Buz. “You n’ Mistah Stiles still gonna try t’ get your car back right?”

“That’s the plan.”

“Good. Like I said, I’ll have that roll bar for ya tonight.”

Buz nodded. Another tractor trailer was coming into the yard to pick up a container and Vern stepped away to be in position for it. Buz walked back to the shanty and picked up the radio mike.

“Hey Tod?”

“Yeah, go ahead.”

“Come down here on the lunch break. I just found out something interesting…”

At lunch break, Tod went down to the yard. He and Buz walked by themselves between tracks with parked locomotives and container cars and Buz told Tod what he’d learned from Vern Tate.

“That explains it all,” Tod said. “And a lot of things Diane said make sense now.”

Buz nodded. “She’s a caged bird. She can sing but there’s no way he’ll ever let her fly.”

They stopped walking and Tod looked at Buz. “I’d like to bust that cage.”

“So would I. Not just for Diane, but look at Vern who lost his brother. He blames Doyle.  And look at Mr. Jepson, he’s going to be forced out of business eventually. Doyle’s made an awful lot of people miserable in this town.”

“He’s taken lives and livelihoods. All he took from us was a car. How come we’re the ones fighting back?”

“Because everyone else is too afraid too. Mr. Jepson’s can’t afford to risk his daughter, Diane’s just in too deep. And Vern… I think he’s too full of guilt more than anything, for not trying hard enough to keep his brother out of Doyle’s organization.”

“So he jumped at helping us.”

“Exactly. But ya know, I’ve been thinking this morning. You may not even have to run that race next Sunday.”

“Why not?”

“Well…” Buz smiled. “I got an idea…”

“Uh oh.”

Buz chuckled. “You’ll dig this one. What if we gave Doyle the opportunity to steal another car?”

“You mean set up one as bait at the King?”

“Yeah.”

“But he knows us. We show up with another car, he won’t try to rip us off again. Besides that where are we gonna get another car?”

Buz shook his head. “We go see Mr. Jepson Saturday morning and we get somebody else to drive the car.”

“Jepson didn’t have anything on his lot worth stealing, at least not the kind of cars Doyle goes for.”

“No, but Jepson might know where we can get one to use.”

Tod paused. “I dunno, Buz…even if we find a car and somebody to drive it, then what?”

“I got a couple of ideas, but it depends on the car we get. We’ll see on Saturday when we go see Jepson.”

Despite Buz’s new idea, they still moved forward with preparing for the race. Friday night, Vern Tate and a couple of his buddies showed up at Jepson’s garage with the roll bar all ready to be welded in. They helped pull out the rest of the interior of the car and pull up the carpeting and then cut holes in the floor pan to get to the frame rails. Buz welded the roll bar to the frame, welded in a crossbar for extra protection and two bracing supports that went from the roll bar into the trunk to connect with the frame rails in the rear.

Buz was meticulous with the welding. If his other idea didn’t pan out and Tod still had to run the race, the roll bar and supports were going to be important to keeping Tod safe, especially if the race was as rough as other folks had alluded to. God forbid Tod flipped the car over.

Buz pushed the thought from his mind. Tod had driven open wheel and open cockpit racers that didn’t even have roll bars. Surely Tod would be safer in a big ol’ hardtop Chevy coupe. Buz completed the final weld along the frame rail in the rear and straightened up from the trunk bay, extinguishing the torch on the welding gun.

“Looks good, Mistah Murdock,” Vern said.

“Thanks,” Buz said. He took his welders goggles off.

Tod and Vern’s two buddies, Mitch and Ryan, came over to take a look.

Tod smiled. “Nice job. I know racing’s not your thing, Buz, but race teams are always in a need of a good welder/fabricator and body man.”

Buz grinned. “Yeah…but I’m into the other kind of body work if you know what I mean.”

The men laughed. In fact, it had to be one of the first times Tod and Buz really saw Vern with a genuinely happy expression.

“Hey,” Vern said as the laughter died down. “You gonna run durin’ the test an’ tune tomorrow?”

Tod nodded. “Yeah.”

“Good. Mitch here’s gonna have his car out too. You might wanna try runnin’ against him for a couple o’ laps. Just run this lady flat out an’ see what she’ll do.”

When Tod and Buz got to Jepson’s dealership Saturday morning, they explained what they had learned about Diane and how Doyle was finding and snagging the high end cars and sports cars.

“And the poor fella who gets his car stolen never suspects a thing,” Jepson said. He then looked at Tod apologetically.

“Unfortunately,” Tod said.

“What we were thinking was to set up another car as bait for Doyle to steal,” Buz said.

“Won’t he suspect something if one of you shows up with a new sports car?” Jepson asked.

“That’s why we have somebody else drive it,” Buz said.

“Who?”

Buz looked at Jepson.

“Oh now wait a minute, I don’t have anything in my inventory that Doyle would want to steal.”

“What about another dealer? Somebody who dislikes Doyle as much as you do?”

“Well…” Jepson paused in thought and then shook his head. “No, he’d never go for a crazy stunt like this.”

“Who?”

“Forget it. No way, it’s too risky. You boys can’t pull off something like that against Doyle.” Jepson paced away from the boys a moment, suddenly uncomfortable.

Tod and Buz watched him. Buz stepped up beside the man. “Mr. Jepson, how long have you had your dealership?”

Jepson looked at Buz. “Twenty-two years…”

“You’d rather let Doyle take it away from you?”

Jepson frowned. “No. But he’s going to take it anyway, he’s half way there!”

“So you’re going to let it go without a fight?”

“I have nothing left to fight with! And you can’t fight a guy like Doyle, he’s too powerful, he has too many friends. You boys don’t know, you’re new here in Atlanta…”

“Oh we know,” Buz said. “We know what kinda guy Doyle is. We know a guy at the freight yard, his younger brother worked for Doyle. You know what happened to him? He’s dead. Doyle uses people up and then discards them. He imprisons them.  Like Diane. Beautiful woman with a beautiful voice, caged up like a bird at that nightclub. She should be in New York with her face on billboards in Times Square doing duets with Sinatra, instead of being forced to set guys up to rip off their cars. We’re going after this guy not because he stole my buddy’s car, but because he’s stolen so much more from other people. People like you. I refuse to believe you don’t have any fight left in you, Mr. Jepson. I just refuse to believe that.”

“Papa….” Maggie came up to her father. “He’s right. I know you still have some fight left in you. You can’t let this go without trying.”

Jepson looked at his daughter and saw all the reasons, in addition to the ones Buz just gave him, that he still had to fight to try to save his dealership and stop a man like Silas Doyle. He gave her a half smile. “Always my cheerleader,” he said. He paused another moment and then looked at Buz. “You want me to drive the car?”

Buz nodded. “All you have to do is drive the car to the club, let it be seen, let Diane bait you for a date and let the car be stolen. Tod and I do the rest.”

“Do I look like the kind of guy that this lady would take on a date?”

“You would if you have the right car,” Buz said.

“Then what do you fellas do?”

“Catch these guys in the act. See, what I was thinking was I could hide in the trunk of the car on the night of the date. Odds are the cars are taken to a holding area, a warehouse or something. They’ll keep it under wraps for a while before they do anything or move it. I can be out of that trunk the night they park it somewhere and I’ll know where they’re keeping the cars. Tod will follow the car but not too close and then I just meet up with Tod and we’ll have them.”

“What, you call the cops in?”

“Exactly.”

“Why not call the cops in beforehand?”

Buz glanced at Tod.

“Well, we think Mr. Doyle might have some friends in the police department that could tip him off,” Tod said.

“Somehow that wouldn’t surprise me,” Jepson said. He sighed. “I think you two are crazy, but I’ve told you that already with you wanting to run in that damn fool race. This little caper, if it works, would take the cake.”

“It’ll only work if we have a car for bait,” Buz said. “Who’s the other dealer?”

“Well, I don’t know that he’ll go for something like this but his name is Carl Henderson, he has a Jaguar dealership in Buckhead and he hates Silas Doyle. You fellas go see him. If he goes along with this stunt, knowing perfectly well he could lose one of his cars, then I’ll do it, I’ll drive it.”

They drove to Buckhead, in North Atlanta, to Henderson’s Jaguar dealership with Mr. Jepson. Jepson introduced Tod and Buz to Carl Henderson and explained that the boys had a car that had been stolen by Silas Doyle and they had a plan to try to retrieve it but needed some help.

“Doyle huh?” Henderson said. “I’m sorry you fellas had your car stolen but do you realize who you’re going up against?”

“Oh they know,” Jepson said.

Henderson gave a snort and smiled. “I hate the man, personally and professionally. I had two Jags stolen last year that I’m sure he had something to do with. Never could prove it and the cops were no damn help.”

“Yeah, we found the same thing,” Tod said.

“I’m sure you did. So what’s your plan to get your car back?”

Buz explained his idea and how they needed a car for bait. Henderson raised an eyebrow as Buz laid out the details but otherwise listened.

“What if it doesn’t work?” Henderson said. “What are you two going to do if you lose my Jag?”

Buz and Tod glanced at each other. “We’ll pay for the car, somehow, Mr. Henderson,” Tod said. “Even if Buz and I have to stay in Atlanta for the next 30 years to do it.”

“You two really would go through all this trouble to try to get your car back? What was it you had?”

“Corvette,” Tod said.

“Ah.” Henderson nodded. “Well, I think I can understand the motive certainly. And I greatly admire your guts for going up against Silas Doyle. But let me see if I have this right. You want to use one of my Jags as bait so you can track it after it’s stolen.” Henderson looked at Buz. “You’re going to hide in the trunk while your buddy here tails you, more or less.”

Buz nodded. “Right. See, if we can locate where they’re holding cars and see what they’re doing that’s more info we could take to the police. If we’re lucky, we’ll find the Corvette while we’re at it.”

“If Doyle hasn’t shipped it out of the city by now to a buyer out of state. I can’t believe he was dumb enough to put it on his lot.” Henderson paused. “Actually, I can.” He looked at the boys. “The odds are pretty good though that your Corvette is long gone by now. If you manage to pull this off and get the law to come down on Doyle, will it be worth it if you don’t get your car back?”

Buz looked at Tod, who looked thoughtful for a moment. Behind the green eyes, Tod thought of the car and his father. Then he thought of Diane and her stalled dreams, Vern Tate and his dead brother and he glanced at Mr. Jepson who was on the verge of losing his dealership and a lifetime of work. Maybe he’d end up losing the Corvette in the end, but the least he and Buz could do at this point was to go forward and try to right a wrong.

Tod nodded to Mr. Henderson. “Yeah,” he said. “It would be worth it.”

Henderson nodded. “And although I appreciate that you boys would work off the loss of a Jag if it should end up lost, I have a least a little bit of an ace in the hole for that as it’s covered under my insurance. So I just let Harold here borrow a Jag for a night on the town to a nice fancy nightclub and the poor sap gets ripped off. As long as I got a police report for the theft, I can make a claim for it. Not that my insurance man will appreciate it and they’ll hike up my rate but, if in the end it puts Silas Doyle out of business, it’ll be worth it.”

Before leaving Henderson’s Jaguar dealership, they had most of the details and logistics worked out. The car to be used was a silver 1961 XKE model with a black convertible top. Henderson would make the arrangements to deliver the car to Jepson before Monday night.

Saturday afternoon, Tod and Buz went to the race track.  Vern Tate’s buddy Mitch was already on the track in a coffee colored Impala with the number 16 splashed on the doors. Tod and Buz pulled the spare tire and jack from the trunk of the Bel Air and Tod did a check under the hood before taking the car out on to the track.

Buz watched from the pit road wall again with a stop watch in hand. He had high expectations this time.

So did Tod. City driving had been a tease, he’d barely had to touch the accelerator to keep up with usual traffic which meant the throttle was hardly even opened up. Now he was about to blow the thing wide open and he couldn’t help the silly grin on his face as he exited pit road and moved on to the bottom of the race track.

There were a few other cars running on the track as well. He checked his mirrors for traffic as the car eased up to 70 miles an hour. When the coast was clear, Tod stood on it and the Bel Air sprung up on to the high side of the track.

The car broke 100 miles an hour in mere seconds and the speedometer hit its 120mph max with plenty of room still left under the pedal.  

Buz smiled seeing the car move and then catch up to the number 16 that was already going flat out on the back stretch. Mitch saw the Bel Air coming up behind him and he waved his hand out the window. Tod waved back and flashed a thumbs up. The Bel Air followed, nearly nose to tail of the Impala, down into turn three and the two cars slung shot out of turn four racing down the front stretch. Buz clicked the stop watch when the Bel Air crossed the line and the race was on.

Tod moved the Bel Air to the side of Mitch and started to pull up to try to pass but didn’t make it before reaching turn one. He dropped back behind the Impala and followed into the turn. The cars came out of turn two and ran tight along the back stretch, side by side. They were still side by side at turn three and went into the turn together coming back out turn four running door to door.  

The two Chevy’s blew by the start/finish line and Buz clicked the stop watch. A marked improvement from a week ago. Tod had shaved close to 40 seconds off his time, this time around taking the 1.5 mile track in in just over a minute. Buz grinned and marked the time down.

From their stall on pit road, Donnie and Stuart watched the blue Bel Air go zooming down the front straightaway.

“That’s Stiles,” Donnie said. When the car disappeared down into the turn, he looked at Stuart. “What’d Doyle say about him running in the Skull Cracker?”

Stuart shook his head. “He just laughed.”

“Yeah,” Donnie said sardonically. “Maybe he should come down here and see this kid run. He ain’t just some New York slick. Kid’s got a lead foot and knows how to use it.”

Vern Tate found Buz at his spot on the pit road wall and he stepped up. “Mistah Stiles’s lookin’ good out there.”

“Yeah,” Buz said. “Shaved about 40 seconds off his time from last week, when he ran it bone stock.”

Vern nodded. “And he’s still runnin’ the stock exhaust. Wait ‘til he gets the short pipes on. The more that car can breathe, the faster she’s gonna go.”

“Oh, that reminds me…” Buz flipped a page on the clipboard he was using to Tod’s running cost sheet on the parts for the car. “Tod wanted to know what we owe you for the roll bar.”

Vern shook his head. “Nothin’. And y’all don’t gotta pay for the exhaust swap either.”

“Vern, Tod said…”

“Nope. All due respect to Mistah Stiles and I appreciate y’all wantin’ to pay up an’ everythin’, but the fact y’all got the guts to go up against Doyle is payment enough. And believe me, Doyle knows y’all are in this race by now. Coupla his boys are down the road there and they been watchin’ Mistah Stiles on this run.”

“Oh? Well, then…” Buz watched as the Bel Air and Impala came out of turn four and were racing down the front stretch again, this time with Tod pulling about half a car length ahead. Buz readied the stop watch and clicked it when Tod crossed the line. “Point them out to me.”

“They’re about four slots up from here.” Vern gestured to the right.

Buz turned to look. Sure enough, he saw Donnie and Stuart who were looking in his direction because Tod was heading into turn one. He didn’t know Stuart, but he recognized Donnie and Buz stared openly at the two men.

There was no doubt they saw him but they resumed watching with interest the blue and coffee colored Chevy’s on the track that were duking it out.

Buz grinned to himself.

After a few more laps, the two Chevy’s came in off the track and paraded down pit road going back to the garage area. Buz and Vern followed after the cars.

Tod pulled the Bel Air into the garage stall he was using while Mitch drove on a little further to reach his. Tod removed his racing helmet and got out of the car. Buz and Vern caught up to him a few moments later.

“You were runnin’ real good out there Mistah Stiles,” Tate said.

“Ran like a dream,” Tod said with a grin. “If she had wings, she’d fly.”

Buz handed over the time sheet. “You took 40 seconds off your time from last week. Second time I clocked you, you took another two seconds off that.”

Tod looked at the times and nodded.

“You ain’t gonna have no problem qualifyin’ for the Skull Cracker,” Vern said. “Like I said to Mistah Murdock heah, when you get them short pipes on you’re gonna run even faster.”

Tod flipped up the page on the clipboard and then looked at Buz. “Did you ask him about the roll bar?”

Buz nodded. “We don’t owe anything.”

“That’s right,” Vern said before Tod could protest. “And you ain’t gonna owe for the exhaust swap either.”

“Vern—“

“No, like I told Mistah Murdock heah, you boys having the guts to go up against Silas Doyle is payment enough. And I mean that. So don’t you worry about havin’ to pay nothin’.”

Tod nodded. “Okay. Thank you.”

Vern shook his head. “No. Thank you,” he said sincerely. “I’ll go check on Mitch. I’ll see you fellas later.”

They watched Vern go and then Buz looked at Tod. “We do have Doyle’s attention.”

“How do you know?”

“Two of his boys were watching you do your run. Vern pointed them out to me. One of them is the fella that told us we didn’t have the right equipment last Saturday.”

Tod snorted. “Really.”

“Yeah. Wonder what he thinks now?”

Tod glanced out from the garage. “I think we’re going to get a chance to ask him…”

Buz turned to look. Donnie walked up to the garage.

“Hey,” he said, “aren’t you the two guys I saw last weekend with that car?” Donnie pointed at the Bel Air.

“Yeah,” Tod said. “We’re the ones that didn’t have the roll bar or the right tires or anything.”

“And no previous stock car experience.” Donnie stepped toward the Bel Air and looked it over, seeing the roll bar, even reaching in through the open window to grip it and finding it was solid. “I saw you out there, you burned up the track today.” He moved to the front of the car.

“We’re fast learners,” Buz said. “And Tod’s a good driver.”

“Maybe,” Donnie said. He unlatched the hood and lifted it up, feeling the breath of heat off the engine. “We’ll see if you’re good enough come next Sunday.”

Tod let Donnie have a look at the engine for a moment and then reached up and slowly brought the hood back down, using his other hand to politely back Donnie away from the engine bay. The hood was pushed closed. “I think I’ll do all right,” Tod said.

Donnie looked at him, hiding a smirk. “Nice four barrel and stainless steel lines. I even saw the high performance plugs. Who did your mods?”

“I did.”

There was a peculiar look in Donnie’s expression briefly, a cross between being impressed and being annoyed.  “Yeah, figures. You weld in that roll bar too?”

“Buz did that.”

“Hm. Well, the Skull Cracker ain’t no ride in the park. Whatever racing you’ve done before ain’t gonna prepare you for this event I can guarantee that.”

“Like I said, I think I’ll be all right,” Tod said.

“Yeah, well you might not be. A nice run on a Saturday against one car is nothing compared to having 20 cars trying to push you off the track. Just remember that.”

“Yeah, I’ll remember that.”

The undeterred confidence of both Tod and Buz bothered Donnie. He sensed their determination wasn’t based on a false assurance because they were ignorant of what they were getting in to. No, he figured they knew exactly what they were getting in to and based on the looks in both of their eyes, the Skull Cracker race next Sunday was going to be a hell run of a race.

In short, these two guys were going to be trouble. Damn that Corvette….

Chapter 6