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  • Robert Giron

2014 Short Story Contest Winner

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

Linkage

by Steven J. Cahill


Harlan never knew what his brother had under the hood. Always something new. Hotter plugs. Bigger carburetor ports. An electric fuel pump. Anything for that extra kick. Harlan couldn’t keep up, not on the highway, not in the garage, not anywhere. Garrett was older and stronger, had been winning at everything forever, and now his Chevy was a little quicker than Harlan’s Ford. A little faster. But they’d been racing and chasing since Harlan could remember, so that was the way of it. Fact of life.


Like today at the stop sign with Garrett pulling up beside him, saying, “Let’s release the beasts, little brother. Zero to sixty. Let the horses out of the barn.” And like that, they were revved up and counted down and fishtailing down River Road. Side by side at the get-go, tires screaming and smoking, with Harlan close, almost staying with him till second gear. . . almost. . . then shifting hot and almost gaining ground, but almost was never quite enough. And never would be. Not when it came to Garrett. Not when they got down to going at it head to head.


Driving back to the garage, Harlan told himself it didn’t matter, but still. One of these days he’d find a way to saddle up his own horses to catch Garrett on the highway. Give the big boy a little surprise. Better yet, get the jump at the giddy-up and leave him sucking wind. Let those Chevy stallions eat some Ford dust. Harlan imagined the surprised look on Garrett’s face. Imagined pulling away and giving him the old Sanderson wave.


Harlan swung around the gas pumps and pulled in over the grease pit in bay one. Garrett drove in beside him, parked his Chevy in the second bay and opened his hood. He gave him a thumbs up and came over with his big-brother smile, saying it had been a good race. Close.


“My engine was screaming like a bobcat in heat,” he said. “That Ford may get into my pants yet.”


Harlan felt a little rush of pride. “Second gear felt good,” he said. “But I think I shifted early.”


“Watch the tach,” Garrett said. “And listen to your engine. Wait until she’s begging for it.”


That was Garrett. Everything hot and sexual. Today he was putting on new valve covers. Edelbrocks. Chrome-plated like his carburetor—a four-barrel Holly—special ordered from J. C. Whitney. Garrett liked having the best.


Harlan took a wrench off the work bench and went down the pit steps to change his oil. Chrome valve covers were fancy, but speed and power mattered more. The real trick was balancing the horsepower cubic inch equation. Finding the magic one-to-one ratio.


He took out the oil plug and watched it drain. The old Dodge in bay three needed an inspection—farm trucks took a beating—but that was on Garrett’s list. Harlan was still looking at a front-end alignment and a tune-up before he got to his homework. With Pop scheduling so much work lately, Harlan was lucky to find time to change own his oil.


A busy garage, Sanderson and Sons, a business destined to be theirs when Pop ran out of gas. Meanwhile, the old man ran the pumps and kept the books but turned all the mechanical work over to them. He liked claiming he was sending his sons to school to become doctors—engine surgeons. Recently he’d begun telling customers his boys were mechanical magicians.


“Healers,” he’d say. “With mystical powers.”


Pop’s bragging embarrassed Harlan, but he could usually diagnose an engine problem by listening. Hear the rattling of tappets and say, “Sounds like a valve job.” Garrett would slip into his mechanic’s coat and add, “Push rods and rocker arms too.” Harlan would reach for the hood latch and say, “What about those sticky lifters?”


Garrett and Harlan, fine-tuning their routine. But they did have the magic touch with internal combustion engines—intake to exhaust—everybody knew it. It was in the Sanderson blood.


Garrett was kicking ass down at the track too—driving test cars for Summit Teams—which was bringing in new business. Harlan was finishing up at Hastings High plus working extra hours to keep his ‘56 Ford running hot and looking good. The money part made Ma crazy.


“You boys,” she said. “There’s more to life than a fast car.”


“Maybe so, Ma,” Garrett said. “But it takes a fast car to find it.”


“I know what you’re finding at that track,” she said. “Racer-chaser women looking for faster cars with leather upholstery.”


“Not a faster car in the state.” Garrett gave Harlan a wink. “And leather seats are too cold for making out in the winter.”


“Don’t get cute, Mister.” Ma looked at Garrett over her glasses. “And don’t think I don’t know about you and that hairdresser.”


Harlan laughed. Ma would have a conniption if she knew half what Garrett was doing.


“Pop had a flashy car,” Garrett said. “Didn’t that catch your eye?”


“Oh my, yes. The ‘34 Ford.” She paused, laughing and thinking back, then gave Garrett a warning look. “But your father wasn’t running the roads every night and tomcatting around. He was serious.”


“Pop’s ‘34 was a roadster, Harlan,” Garrett said. “Tomcatting in a rumble seat is serious business.”


“Garrett T. Sanderson! Mind your mouth.” But she laughed. Garrett was her favorite and always made her laugh. “Time to stop chasing skirts and driving crazy.” She pointed over at Pop dozing in his chair. “The old crankcase is waiting for you to settle down and start running the business.”


And Ma had shifted into high gear about the business: The family business. And her boys being heirs to a dynasty. About her sons being more than good mechanics. More than simple gear heads exchanging ratchets and wrenches for Christmas. They were executives and businessmen, the bloodlines of the business, and somebody around here better get busy and jump-start the next generation. Because if he didn’t Harlan would get interested in girls and beat him to it.


Garrett had laughed and said Harlan would need lessons to operate that kind of internal combustion engine. Harlan blushed and said that wasn’t the race he wanted to win.


Of course now, waiting in the pit while his oil drained, Harlan couldn’t stop thinking about the race he did want to win but knew he couldn’t. His ‘56 Crown Vic couldn’t beat Garrett’s ‘57 Bel Air. Clearly. Not running stock. It was that simple.


Meanwhile, Garrett was carrying on a running commentary and ratcheting down his new Edelbrocks. “Looking good under the hood,” he said. “Silver catches a woman’s eye.”


“Pop saw the invoice,” Harlan said. “Said it was too much cash for a little flash.”


Garrett laughed and tightened a bolt. “Flash this chrome at a woman and she’ll let you peek under her hood.”


Harlan didn’t think it was that easy, but Garrett was ahead of him in that department too. Way ahead. And running the roads with a married waitress from Denison’s Diner.


“A corn-fed woman,” Garrett said. “And she can serve a three-course meal.”


Other nights Garrett went down to the Hair Shed for a little session with Jolene. “A beauty-shop chair is like the tilt-a-whirl at the county fair,” he said. “And Jolene knows how to curl my short hairs.”


Harlan loved hearing his brother talk about it. Telling him what to do and how to do it, filling in details about what women liked to hear, where to touch them and how, what to tickle and when, how to start their engines and get them into second gear. Garrett was his big brother with big-time good looks. And he was fast, fast, fast.


“Time you got saddled up and broke in,” Garrett said. “Show some little pompom girl what your Ford has got and she’ll strap you on. Give her a hundred-mile-an-hour ride and she’ll cream her jeans.”


Harlan knew he was blushing and hoped Garrett couldn’t see his face.


“A hundred’s easy,” Harlan said. “When the Vic is running right I can bury the needle.”


“Exactly.” Garrett laughed. “I couldn’t have said it better. She’ll be hotter than a cowboy’s pistol on the Fourth of July.”


Harlan didn’t know many pompom girls. They didn’t have much to do with shop boys, but Faithlin Hardy was a cheerleader and she was in his English class. And she’d smiled at him when he read his poem. He wondered if she liked going fast. Some girls didn’t.


“I don’t know,” he said. “What if she just gets scared?”


“All the better.” Garrett came over and sat on the pit steps. “Her heart will be hammering like an engine throwing a rod. Like your first time on the cross.”


The Sanderson Cross. Garrett’s little trick of switching lanes when they met out on the highway. A heart-stopper that first time. The crazy bastard crossed the center line and came straight at him. A head-on about to happen. Harlan read his mind at the last second—swung left and changed lanes—a double cross—both cars on the wrong side of the road, meeting and passing in one split-second of life-changing terror. It had been a close one.


Harlan drove home pissed, his blood still up, and found Garrett washing the Chevy. Garrett grinned at him over the top of his car. “Did you come home to change your shorts?”


“Jesus Christ, Garrett. You could have killed us both.”


“I knew you wouldn’t wreck your car. You had to cross.”


“What if Ma had been driving?”


“There’d have been some skid marks in her bloomers.” Garrett laughed and wrung out a chamois. “If your Ford is coming that fast, I know you’re driving.”


“What if I seized up? Some drivers freeze.”


“Just get over when I cross or you’ll be sitting in the front seat of my Chevy.”


Garrett was crazy as an outhouse rat. And always on the edge.


Now it only happened up on the Flats. And now Garrett accelerated when he swerved into his lane. It was cross or crash. Even with Harlan expecting it, the adrenaline always kicked in and started something in his belly -- something hot.


“Speed does that?” he asked. “Being scared gets a girl going?”


“Better than a horror movie at the drive-in,” Garrett said. “You’ll have that cheerleader doing cartwheels in the back seat.”


That was his brother. Fast women, fast cars. And Garrett’s Bel Air had the Power Pack with dual exhaust. Plus it was a rag top. A black convertible. No wonder women loved him.


“When I drop the top and drive through town,” he said, “I feel like the pied piper.”


Harlan adjusted the mixing valves in his carburetor and changed his air filter, but he was thinking about the three carburetor setup he’d seen on a T-Bird in Hot Rod magazine. A row of shiny Hollys sitting on top of a 312 engine. He imagined harnessing them to his accelerator and releasing those beasts. Be like wild stallions coming out of the barn when he floored it. And catching Garrett in the stampede. He was wondering about the complications of progressive linkage when Faithlin Hardy walked in.


 

Faithlin’s mother had been getting on her case again. Little nagging questions about the future. About being a senior and her plans after graduation. What about one of the Cosmetology Colleges?—Jolene had an extra chair at the Hair Shed—Didn’t the Medical Center have On The Job Training?—Practical nurses and LPNs always had jobs. And how come shorthand and typing weren’t on her schedule this year? Secretarial skills always came in handy.


“To help out when you’re married. Just hope you’ll never need to.”


“Nurses have to work nights.” Faithlin checked her hair—time for a trim—and gave her mother a hug. “You said night shifts are hard on a marriage.”


“Yes they are, Honey. But you wasted a year on a boy that left town.”


Push was coming to shove and Faithlin knew it was time to make a decision. Get on with being a woman and find herself a man to go the distance. She’d gone steady with Dolby Rainer her junior year which was a total waste because he’d gone off to college after he graduated and she guessed he wasn’t coming back. But she wasn’t about to sit and wait, and she sure as hell wasn’t going to go trotting after him and waste her life chasing his dreams. Besides, Hastings was her home town. She knew better than to run off to New York and get used up by the city. This was her place, thank you very much, and she’d stay right here. No varsity cheerleader was going to have a problem finding a replacement. She did a slow pirouette in front of the full length mirror. Yes indeed. Faithlin Felice Hardy had the goods. Not to be conceited, but she had the moves and if she played her cards right it wasn’t too late to get the pick of the litter.


Not all the big dogs were on a short leash and half the varsity athletes still dropped hints or gave her the look. Most boys checked out her chest or looked at her legs and were forever sneaking peeks at the satin panties cheerleaders wore. Not that she didn’t admire their physical talents too—she loved behind-the-back passes and fade-away jump shots—but she hated the athletes’ sense of entitlement. After the team won regionals and went to state, half the boys stopped doing homework and started treating cheerleaders like property, acting like hot hands on the court was a license for hot hands everywhere.


She wanted sensitive, maybe not a writer—Dolby had gone off to be a novelist—but someone with enough heart to get hers going. Romance and passion, that’s what she wanted. Someone subtle but exciting with a little substance. But with the mother smother getting worse, she’d better get a hustle on.


Harlan Sanderson appeared like a bolt from the blue. Actually he’d been sitting behind her all year—the shop boys sat in the back—but today he was called up front to read his poem. Harlan, blushing and embarrassed, but reminding her of his older brother. Dark, sultry Garrett, the race-car driver hunk. Harlan had the same muscular build. She was admiring his football shoulders and wondering why he never played sports when he walked up to the podium and read the title:


Heart of ICE,” he said. “I-C-E is all capitals. It’s an abbreviation for—”


“It’s better not to tell us Harlan,” Mr. Porter interrupted. “Let us figure it out as the metaphor is revealed.”


Metaphor. Really. Faithlin was surprised Harlan had written a poem. Never mind one with a metaphor. She liked his shyness and the way that curl of hair fell across his forehead. And she liked how he looked standing behind the podium to read. Pleased that his poem had been chosen, but not carried away with it. He really was quite good looking. She was surprised she’d never noticed before.


Harlan nodded and cleared his throat. “Heart of ICE,” he said, and began reading:


‘Blood is the fuel flowing into the heart

Waiting to combust with a flickering spark.

Then the air is mixed by a butterfly’s wing,

And the sound of thunder begins to sing.’


Harlan paused and looked up. He met her eyes—a soulful look—and blushed again, but his voice gained confidence as he read. Lines about passion in the blood becoming fire—erotic really—about turmoil in the chambers of the heart. Faithlin liked the kind of poetry Mr. Porter called accessible. Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, poets she could understand. And now she could almost feel the heat of the engine as the vehicle in Harlan’s poem chased the white lines on a dark highway.


‘Building power and gaining speed.

A chariot racing beyond earthly need.’


Faithlin was fascinated when the lines built to a climax and the metaphor became clear. She loved that he called his car a chariot. A chariot with a carburetor heart that mixed air and gas to feed the fire. The passionate fire that drove his Internal Combustion Engine. ICE.


The shop boys whistled and clapped when he finished, but Mr. Porter held up his hand, explaining extended metaphor and how the chariot’s human feelings and passion were an example of anthropomorphism.


Faithlin liked that it hadn’t been one of the college-bound kids getting his poem analyzed, and some of the lines stuck with her all day. Carburetor or not, she knew Harlan had deep feelings. Hard to imagine him having a brother like Garrett with a slow-eyed Elvis look and reputation for being so wild. He drove like a bat out of hell, and there’d been rumors about a married woman. But today she knew Harlan was different—still waters run deep—and brought up the Sanderson name at dinner.


“Watch out for that older one,” her mother said. “A car will always mean more to Garrett Sanderson than a woman’s heart.”


“Well, that convertible is a head turner,” Faithlin said. Which was a fact. Every varsity cheerleader on the squad was dying for a ride in that Chevy. Most of them would give it up just to get close to Garrett. “And I heard he’s winning at the track.”


“Garrett Sanderson will be racing cars till they kill him,” her mother said. “But that younger one would clean up nice.”


“I think he may have potential.” And she did. Faithlin had spoken to Harlan after class. Stopped him in the hall and told him how much she loved his poem. Told him she admired the way he’d explored his deep feelings. ‘You know, in a symbolic way.’ He went shy, but she could tell from the look in his puppy-dog eyes that he had feelings for more than cars.


She liked his car too—a Crown something or other—plus Harlan was practically running his father’s garage. He wasn’t headed for the swing-shift waiting list down at the plant. Harlan Sanderson had a future.


“I imagine him ending up with the family business,” her mother said. “And he’s still young enough to be trainable if you start putting down papers.”


Faithlin’s father cleared his throat and rolled a toothpick around in his mouth. “Garrett met Richard Petty at Daytona last year,” he said. “If he gets a ride with NASCAR, he’ll have tickets and passes to pit road so the whole family could—”


“This family doesn’t want tickets to that circus,” her mother said. “Her ticket’s right here, and Harlan Sanderson won’t be out burning rubber while she’s raising babies. He might have grease under his nails when he comes to the table, but he’ll be home for supper.”


That was the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for Faithlin, and she went down to the Hair Shed for a trim. Jolene added a few highlights and gave her a summer look. A little bounce. Faithlin was leaving the shop when Garrett Sanderson came down Main Street in his pride and joy. He slowed and stopped, his engine burbling like a log truck while she crossed the street in front of him. The top was down, his hair was combed back like the King himself, and he gave her such a long Elvis look that she felt the heat.


Faithlin hadn’t worn a bra and knew he was watching her jiggle. Her sweater was so light and tight that her nipples showed. But she’d gotten used to lingering looks from cheering and expected them. Now she was even wishing she’d worn her shorts and that her legs were tan. Give him the big picture. A pair of short-shorts on North Main could tie up traffic.


Faithlin hadn’t given it all away to Dolby Rainer, saving herself for the main event, but she’d come close—given him a lesson or two in the back seat—so she knew all the moves. Walking past Garrett’s car, she went loose at the waist and put a touch of salsa on her hips. Take that, you old hound dog. But when she looked back, he was waving at Jolene inside the shop. Didn’t matter. Faithlin wouldn’t be spinning her wheels chasing that good old boy around the circuit. Her sights were set on the brother.


Harlan didn’t have a girlfriend, not that anybody knew, but Raelene Bailey had gone giddy about his poem and put a little extra on it when he was around. Like she was looking to get something started. Faithlin wasn’t worried about competition—she could handle that—but she didn’t want to back-stab Raelene.


Friday afternoon she checked with the girls after practice and found out the coast was clear. Raelene had been working some serious moves on Billy Stebbins and was ready to put him out of his misery. Lately she’d been thinking maybe she’d like to have a baby to get a little head start on her future and nail Billy down. And what did everybody think of that idea? Her father could get Billy on the day shift at the plant and who wouldn’t jump at a chance like that?


Saturday morning Faithlin put on the sweater again. It was orlon, powder blue, and buttoned down the front. Oh yeah. Then she shimmied into her short-shorts and went down to Sandersons’ garage to get a driving lesson.


 

Harlan was thinking to ask Garrett about progressive linkage setups when Faithlin Hardy walked in. Taking her time and pausing to look at the Continental Kit on Harlan’s Ford before coming up along the driver’s side. Garrett was talking solid lifters and a new camshaft for his Chevy, but Faithlin’s shorts shut him up for a minute.


She traced the chrome V on Harlan’s door with a lazy finger, saying, ‘So this is The Chariot,’ and started talking about how it was too bad the Driver’s Ed car at school was an automatic. “I got my license with my uncle’s car,” she said. “But I need to learn stick shift. My mom’s car is standard.”


Garrett nodded knowingly. “Manual transmissions are tricky, Faithlin, but I could give you lessons.” He patted the hood of his Chevy and winked at Harlan. “And this chariot is a real fire-breather.”


Harlan wished he could be more like Garrett. Casual and confident in a flirtatious way. When girls talked to Harlan at school, it always came around to his brother. Who was he going out with now?—Or—Is it true he’s being recruited by NASCAR? When Garrett drove by the school with the top down and glasspac mufflers rumbling, the girls fluttered around like there was a rooster in the hen house.


Sometimes he cruised by just to get them started. Garrett was twenty now, too old for high school girls. He called the younger ones ‘Jailbait’ and ‘San Quentin Quail’— but Faithlin was eighteen.


Harlan couldn’t believe she was here. So beautiful, her face thoughtful and serious while she considered Garrett’s offer. He wondered where Dolby Rainer had gone off to and when he’d be coming around again. Then he realized that Faithlin was looking at him.


“I was thinking Harlan would be the one,” she said, and gave him a warm smile. “We’re in English class together, and I really like his poetry.”


“Poetry.” Garrett rolled his eyes. “Hard to imagine.”


Harlan’s pulse jumped when she ran her hand up the strip of chrome on the roof of his Crown Vic. She had a profile that put her in a class by herself. “I don’t know,” he said, feeling himself blush. “I help out in the shop, but I’ve never taught driving.”


“Harlan’s right,” Garrett said. “He’s a rookie when it comes to teaching. You’ll be wanting someone with experience to get you started.”


“What about it, Harlan?” Faithlin leaned over and looked inside his car, shorts so tight the lines of her underwear showed through. “Don’t you want to get experienced too?”


Harlan shrugged, but she was watching him, eyes bluer than her sweater, and waiting for an answer. He kept his voice even and said he’d been driving stick since he was nine and guessed he could probably hold up his end of it.


“That settles it for me.” Faithlin gave him a high-beam smile. “Besides, with your brother so experienced and all, he’d probably be too fast for me.”


Garrett laughed and studied her for a moment. “Maybe,” he said. “But I don’t think so.” He shook his head after Faithlin left and clapped Harlan on the shoulder. “She’s faster than both of us,” he said. “You’ll be the one that gets a lesson.”


“What do you mean? Learning stick shift will take ten minutes.”


“Be a hot ten minutes,” Garrett said. “That girl wants to pop your cherry.”


Harlan felt a surge of heat in the pit of his stomach. An electrical tingle in his groin. Like running the Sanderson Cross and being scared half to death.


Garrett was already giving instructions, telling him to take his time and listen for her breathing to change before he shifted. Telling him to get her engine into second gear before unhooking her bra and going for bare skin.


“And writing her a poem.” Garrett shook his head in wonderment. “Smooth move, little brother. She’s breathing hard already.”


“The poem wasn’t about her,” Harlan said. “It was about cars.”


“Hot cars always turn women on.” Garrett rumpled Harlan’s hair. “But if she’s too hot to handle, I may need to take the wheel.”


But Harlan was only half listening. He had an image of Faithlin stretching for the chrome crown on his car and wasn’t worried about unhooking her bra. He didn’t think she’d been wearing one.


 

Synchronizing the pedals wasn’t half as tricky as going from a cartwheel to a split—varsity cheerleaders were athletic for God’s sake—just another maneuver that required timing and coordination. And practice.


Harlan turned out to be a good teacher. He was patient when she raced the engine, knew enough to keep quiet when she grated the gears, and gave her gentle reminders about not developing bad habits like riding the clutch. She drove around town to practice shifting at traffic lights, and he took her on routes that had stop signs on hills.


Harlan’s car was a‘56 Ford, a blue and white Crown Victoria with a modified V-8 engine which needed, according to Harlan, a little more gallop. Cute. Calling 225 horsepower ‘gallop.’ The car was scary fast and sexy to drive. By the time Faithlin felt comfortable shifting and was working on smoothing out the ride, she discovered how much she loved to drive. Nothing felt quite like it. Standing on a pyramid of cheerleaders in the gym was the end of a performance, a pose. Cruising down North Main behind the wheel was a performance in motion, one with potential. The Crown Vic—Faithlin loved the name—was sleek and lethal as a jungle cat, but she was taming it and learning what it could do. What she could make it do.


Harlan began teaching her things that weren’t in any Driver’s Manual: Revving the engine and popping the clutch, burning rubber and blowing smoke, how to spread a patch and leave a loop. Redlining, speed shifting, and just plain driving fast. And faster. Faithlin was loving it.


And she loved the cheerleaders being jealous, checking Harlan out when he picked her up from practice, admiring his car and making little comments.


“Stick shift. Like you need lessons for that.”


Laughing and talking about parallel parking. About Raelene Bailey taking Billy Stebbins to the gravel pit for some real back seat driving. Girl talk, curious and asking questions about Harlan, but Faithlin let them wonder.


She had decided to break him in slow. After all, he was a rookie and this was going to be her first rodeo too. Dolby Rainer hadn’t amounted to much so he didn’t count. She could take her time with Harlan, parcel it out and let it build so she could enjoy the ride.


She liked the way his breathing quickened when they kissed, the medicinal smell of Vitalis in his hair, and she loved to hear him moan when she arched up and let him press himself against her. A little more each time. She felt it building too.


But everything was building. The sound of a V-8 engine, the smell of hot tires and asphalt, the feeling of being transported when she got her hands on the wheel. Acceleration and speed were intoxicating, and Faithlin was in ecstasy when she caught rubber in second gear. There were feelings she’d never had, and she was discovering what Harlan meant when he said, ‘Let the animal out of the cage.’ Wild things were asleep inside her, and they were waking up.


Tonight she kept the accelerator on the floor in second gear until the tach ran into the red. Six thousand RPMs in second gear. Incredible. And then, out on the state highway, she had the speedometer pushing ninety, driving faster than she’d ever driven before. Faster than her mother’s car would even go.


Laughing at her expression, Harlan took the wheel and drove out to Hastings Flats. “This is where Garrett and I open up and turn it loose.” He began doing things behind the wheel that had her heart pounding in her chest. My God, doing doughnuts and skids and spins, doing emergency brake turns. Going from zero to sixty was like being on a carnival ride. Faithlin timed it while Harlan trimmed it down, getting quicker and faster every time.


“Let me try, Harlan,” she said. “I can do it.”


“Not here,” he said. “In case we meet Garrett.”


Faithlin pulled away from him. “You don’t want your brother to know I drive your car?” She felt her good mood slip away.


“It isn’t that.” Harlan laughed and pulled her back. “We’ve got a surprise.”


Men’s surprises were hard to imagine, but Harlan held the accelerator down and told her to watch the speedometer. She was holding her breath when the needle quivered up and passed a hundred. Definitely over. My God. And Harlan said it had flattened out. That the engine was starving.


“Incredible,” she said. “I can’t imagine going any faster.”


“Garrett’s Chevy will. He even polishes the ports in his four barrel carburetor.”


“A four barrel.” She remembered carburetors from the Heart of ICE poem. “Can’t you do that too?”


“Better than that,” he said. “And I’ve sent for the parts.”


Harlan told her he was working on a setup to make Garrett Sanderson eat their dust. How he’d love to beat his brother at something, anything. He’d never been first at anything around Garrett. And after that, if Faithlin wanted, she could put the speedometer out of sight. The Crown Vic would be ready to do a buck twenty plus change and she could bury the needle. After they beat Garrett, he’d let her do some real hot driving.


Faithlin slid over and put her head on his shoulder. A hundred and twenty miles an hour, maybe more. With her at the wheel. Just thinking about it made her hot. Beating Garrett would be special too.


The Vic was running smooth and they cruised the back roads while the sun went down and filled the pewter sky with dusk. Faithlin loved that word, Dusk, and Elvis was singing ‘It’s Now or Never’ on the radio. She pressed her breasts against Harlan’s arm—no bra today—and rested the warmth of her hand on his thigh. Harlan was shy, letting her take the lead, and she suggested stopping in the gravel pit. For a little while, you know, if you want to.


When the car was full of heat and heavy breathing, Faithlin’s nipples were tingling and she decided to undo the buttons. Go that far at least. Going a hundred miles an hour had started a fire inside. Stirred her in ways that were showing. She wanted him to see her breasts, her swollen nipples, and she wanted to watch his face.


She sat up, straddling his lap and watching his expression change while she undid the buttons on her sweater. Slowly. Unbuttoned every one and then held the sweater open and let him look. It was worth it. He was begging to touch them. Next time she’d let him.


They were quiet driving back to the garage, and Faithlin rolled down her window to cool things off. The throaty sound of the engine blended with Roy Orbison on the radio doing Pretty Woman, and she felt like her life was filling up and coming true.


Garrett was in the work bay of the garage when they came in. Faithlin knew her face was flushed and that Harlan was still hot and bothered and walking funny. Garrett looked at the buttons on her sweater and grinned. He knew what she’d been doing to his brother. Faithlin smiled right back. She wasn’t about to be intimidated by Garrett being Hollywood handsome.


“I did over 80 tonight,” she said. “Harlan says I’m good with speed.”


“I guessed you’d be a natural.” Garrett winked and looked at the blonde streaks Jolene had put in her hair. “The question is, what are you teaching him?”


Harlan jumped in and changed the subject. “The engine was getting mushy at the top end,” he said. “It felt like I was getting valve float or running bad gas.”


And easy as that, they were talking about high-octane fuel and compression rates. Usually she didn’t listen, it was like a foreign language. But now it was interesting. Now it all sounded like sex. Solid lifters and big pistons. Short-stroke engines and faster windups. My goodness.


 

Harlan’s parts came in the mail. The intake manifold he’d special-ordered from J. C. Whitney with three two-barrel carburetors—triple deuces—he’d gotten the Strombergs. Hooking them up would be tricky, synchronizing the system and adjusting the linkage without Garrett knowing would take time, but he’d gotten a calibration kit and an electric fuel pump. Besides, Faithlin was developing an ear for engines now and would help with the fine tuning.


Harlan loved the look on her face when he explained the linkage. How they would be cruising on one carburetor at quarter-throttle with the other two waiting to kick in. The engine purring like a kitten at a stop light until some gear-head in a jacked-up street rod pulls up and gives them ‘the look.’ The light changes and the Vic becomes a roaring lion and eats the kid alive.


“Flooring it opens the door,” Harlan said. “The linkage lets the animal out of the cage.”


Faithlin hugged him and slid her hands into the back pockets of his jeans. “I can’t wait to drive it,” she said. “I’m excited already.”


Harlan moved his hands onto the flare of her hips, getting excited too, but she leaned back, eyes half-closed and dreamy and said, “And we’ll beat Garrett?”


“That’s the plan,” he said. “A little surprise for big brother.”


“I want to be with you,” she said. “I can’t wait to see his face.”


Harlan couldn’t either, and wanted her there. But lately Garrett had been weird about Faithlin.


“She’s got you by the balls, Brother. Your pecker will shrivel up and fall off if you don’t use it soon.”


Harlan was sorry he’d told him about that night. About hitting a hundred with the Vic and Faithlin undoing her sweater.


“And you sat there like a deer caught in the headlights.” Garrett laughed. “But then, that girl’s headlights are always on high beam.”


Harlan didn’t like him talking that way about Faithlin’s breasts. “We’re taking it slow,” he said, but thinking about her nipples made him hard. And he wouldn’t be asking his brother for any more advice. This was private now, something special with Faithlin, and he hated it when Garrett called her a tease. Saying to bring her up to the Flats and show her the Cross. Nothing like a near-death experience to get a girl ready to rock and roll. Harlan said he’d give it some thought.


He didn’t like the way his brother was today either. And he kept hanging around after they finished old lady Bartlett’s transmission and put away the tools. Faithlin had been in and out all afternoon, talking recipes with Ma and pumping gas for Pop. Harlan had her put new Blue Jewel taillights on the Ford while they waited for Garrett to leave so they could get started.


But Garrett was still bragging about his Chevy taking them apart up on the Flats. Even beating some of the new ‘60s. How he’d nailed a Plymouth Fury and a Pontiac Star Chief, and just last night he’d kicked some Chrysler ass.


“But you do things to your car,” Faithlin said. “Add extras.”


“Racing is about winning.” Garrett gave her a knowing look. “Everybody thinks they’ve got something special under the hood.”


As much as the attitude and arrogance annoyed him, Harlan felt a surge of confidence. He and Garrett had been playing cat-and-mouse with cars and horsepower since they started driving. Extra carburetion was fair.


“Of course there’s weight and the gear ratio of automatics,” Garrett admitted, being modest now. “Torqueflite, Hydramatic, even the Chevy Powerglide is sluggish. Show me a heavy car with automatic, and I’ll show them my exhaust.”


“What about new Fords?” Harlan asked. “Have you run a Galaxie?”


“Bad news, Good news.” Garrett laughed. “New Fords don’t have the power to pull a sick whore off a piss pot. Even your ‘56 will blow the doors off a Galaxie.”


Harlan winced. He didn’t like that kind of talk around Faithlin, but she ignored it.


Garrett was putting the top down on his convertible for a night of cruising. “This is the car to beat, Little Brother.” He winked at Faithlin. “I’ve got the fastest stick in the state.”


When Garrett finally left, Harlan pulled the Vic into the garage and they went to work. Changing the manifold and mounting the Strombergs took longer than expected. Connecting the linkage was trial-and-error and making constant adjustments to smooth out the engine. But Faithlin was patient and helpful, learning the language of mechanics and handing him tools: wrenches and screwdrivers—flathead and phillips—deep-well sockets and ratchet extensions. And she adjusted the idling screws while he lengthened the linkage.


The language Faithlin was teaching him required no words: reaching for tools and brushing hands, working side-by-side underneath the hood, and resting her hand on his leg during road tests. Language with a physical vocabulary, and Harlan was feeling it.


But he knew not to rush things:


Garrett ran high test in his Chevy—93 octane—saying, “Vitamins for my horses.”


Harlan filled up with aircraft fuel—120 octane—thinking, ‘Vitamins for race horses.’


Garrett had a Mallory dual-point distributor.


Harlan put in a three-quarter cam and solid lifters.


They were getting to it and Harlan planned to be looking at his brother in the rearview mirror. And then he’d wave.


The Sanderson Wave, Garrett’s signature move. Lift a lazy hand and draw a big S in the air. An arrogant, slow-motion S. And put a period at the end. “Punctuate it,” Garrett said. “Because it’s over. A Sanderson Wave means goodbye; it ends when you point at the guy you beat.”


The Sanderson Wave. Garrett even did it when they made the Cross, but that happened so fast Harlan always kept both hands on the wheel. But this time he’d give Garrett a dose of it. After they came off the line and his Ford jumped out front, Harlan would hit second gear and raise his hand to draw the big S—Goodbye Garrett—pointing while he pulled away.


Faithlin laughed when he practiced tracing a sensual S in the air in front of her, like he was drawing her profile. She smiled, stepping into the space, and arched her back. Her face was flushed and expectant, beautiful.


“You Sanderson boys have sexy moves,” she said. “But when are we going to race?”


Harlan was ready to take on the Chevy. He had a mathematical advantage: Three twos vs a four-barrel. The Vic had the equivalent of a T-Bird engine and accelerated like a striking cobra when he jumped on it. He hoped his transmission could handle the torque. Three wide-open Strombergs blasting through BBK headers sounded like a top fuel dragster. A crazy one that burned nitrous oxide and went about a thousand miles an hour in two seconds. Then needed a parachute to stop.


“Tonight,” he said. “If Garrett heard the rumors and takes the bait.”


He had, and he did, and he was fuming. “Faithlin has been blowing smoke,” he said. “Your little twinkie told Jolene that your car is faster than mine. Half the girls at the Hair Shed are believing it.”


Harlan felt a small moment of deceit, but Garrett was already talking about the run. Calling it a ‘Moment of Truth’ and saying he hoped it wouldn’t break Harlan’s heart when his girl wanted to ride home in the Chevy.


Honest to God. Sometimes Garrett was too much. This wasn’t like a movie where the girl goes home with the winner, but the look on Garrett’s face gave him a cold chill.


“Faithlin’s not the prize,” he said. “Just to be clear.”


“Let’s make the run,” Garrett said. “See how it goes.”


With the summer heat yet to come—and graduation two weeks away—it was a perfect night for racing. Harlan picked up Faithlin and drove up to the Flats, listening to the music of his engine and feeling the thunder of the Strombergs when they opened up. They were tuned and ready with the kinks smoothed out of the linkage. Tonight they were responding without a single cough or stutter, going from idle to wide open without an instant’s hesitation. The Vic was ready; Harlan felt it.


Harlan loved Rebel Without A Cause where Natalie Wood stood between the cars and dropped her arms to start the race. But Faithlin would be riding with him—she was part of this now—and drag racing in Hastings was simpler. Two vehicles lined up at the south end—on a start line painted years ago—revving up while they counted down—then raced to the Route 5 sign halfway down the flats. More than a quarter mile and far enough to answer any questions. Harlan had done the ritual a hundred times before, beaten every kid and every car at school, but Garret always pulled away. Got him by a car length doing zero to sixty and still gaining in the quarter. Tonight would be different; Harlan knew it.


More than a dozen cars had parked in the roadside pullout where a crowd—mostly kids from school—had started a small fire in a barrel. Billy and Raelene were sitting on the hood of his car, and Billy gave him a thumbs-up when they went by.


“The word got around,” Harlan said. “How did they know?”


“I told the cheerleaders.” Faithlin opened her window and waved. “I wanted them to see.”


Garrett was waiting at the start. His convertible top was up for better aerodynamics and he was looking down at the crowd. “I’m glad you brought witnesses.” He grinned at Faithlin. “You should have sold tickets.”


The arrogant tone settled Harlan’s pre-race jitters. “We’re ready to go,” he said. “Do you want two out of three?”


“Let’s wind them up,” Garrett said. “One run for all the marbles.”


It was a clean start: screaming tires, a cloud of blue smoke but coming off the line together with the Vic nosing ahead. It was finally happening. A quarter car length in low gear—incredible—redlining through the power curve and catching rubber in second. Zero to 60 faster than he’d ever done before—unbelievable—with the Vic out in front and still gaining.


Sound layered on sound for the sweetest moment of Harlan’s life. His engine screaming in his head, Faithlin screaming in his ear ‘Yes, Yes, Yes.’ It was a decisive win. Over a car length at the sign and Harlan so excited he didn’t even look at the speed. Both of them so excited they’d forgotten to wave.


It happened so quickly; it was over so soon.


Harlan’s heart was racing when they turned around and stopped at the end of the flats. He wanted Garrett to ask for another run, but he didn’t. Garrett did come over to the car and ask for a look under the hood.


Harlan showed him the Strombergs, filled with pride and wanting to talk linkage, but Garrett shook his head. “That’s a great set up,” he said. “But now it’s not a stock engine.”


“Neither is yours,” Faithlin said. “Can’t you just admit we won?”


Garrett studied her for a moment. “The Ford was hot tonight,” he said. “But we’ll run again.”


“Anytime,” she said, pulling on Harlan’s arm. “We can’t wait.”


They parked in the old gravel pit beside the river. The sound of peepers filled the air with Elvis singing Are You Lonesome Tonight on the radio. Harlan slid across the seat and reached for Faithlin. He’d finally beaten his brother, and she’d been with him. No, he wasn’t lonesome, but the sultry voice and the lyrics of the song made him ache inside.


They were kissing now, long slow kisses, with Faithlin melting against him and filling the car with heat. He kissed her again and slid his hand underneath her blouse, but she pushed him away.


“Wait, Harlan,” she said. “So you can see.”


His protest died in his throat when she slid back against her door and unbuttoned her blouse. Slowly, undoing it top to bottom, then taking it off completely. She reached back to undo the bra, slid it down her arms and let her breasts spring out. Ivory white with the nipples pink and erect. Harlan reached, his hands trembling.


“Not yet,” she said. “Take off your shirt.”


He did, holding his breath and watching her unzip her skirt and push it down over her hips. She kept her underpants on. A wisp of pale blue silk with lace trim and a monogram. FFH. Faithlin Felice Hardy, posing for him in her panties, sexier than Playboy magazine.


Then they were kissing, skin against skin, and she drew his hands up to her breasts. Telling him to hold them and kiss them. Jesus. She held his head against them and let him suck her nipples until he felt like he would explode. My God, he was so hard it hurt. Then her hands were on him, pulling at his belt and unzipping his Levis. He almost couldn’t breathe. She reached in to hold him, her hands warm and moving until he made a strangled gasp and collapsed against the seat. And like that, it was over.


But Faithlin was smiling when they got dressed. “Next time we’ll go slower,” she said. “This part is not a race.”


 

Faithlin was surprised at how much the race had turned her on. Like an aphrodisiac. But speed and power were seductive, and Harlan’s car was fast and sexy. She wished she’d been driving. And she really wished she could have seen Garrett’s expression when they won. Like watching Harlan’s face while she was taking off her clothes. Maybe better.


Just thinking about it got her hot. That whole night had been wild—half the kids in school came to watch—like cheering at center court, but she’d been a player. A participant, and she’d been riding in the winning car. She almost couldn’t breathe at the start, but she’d gone screaming crazy when Harlan pulled ahead. And every nerve ending in her body was on fire when they won.


Of course Garrett hated to admit losing. He’d practically ignored them after they won the race, then claimed that Harlan’s engine wasn’t fair. And acted like Johnny Thunder when he drove off in his convertible to fast-talk some woman into the back seat. Probably tell her how he won so she’d get all hot and bothered and go all the way.


Faithlin felt like it herself. Down in the gravel pit, still tingling inside, and getting Harlan so excited that he came right in her hand. She’d loved him being that needy and so helpless afterward. And grateful. It made her feel like a woman.


Harlan had been quiet driving home. She slid over and pressed against him until she realized what he was thinking. “Garrett didn’t like it,” he said. “I thought he’d be impressed.”


“He was,” she said, and straightened up. “He couldn’t believe we won.”


“He’ll come up with something faster.” Harlan shrugged. “He always does.”


She put her foot on top of his and pushed it down on the gas. The Strombergs opened up and filled the night until she felt the sound down in her core. “You won, Harlan,” she said. “We’re faster.”


There’d been lots of talk at school, but with Senior Projects coming due, the week had practically flown. Faithlin had yet to pick a topic, but Harlan’s was about Henry Ford. Of course.


Saturday morning now with her mother drinking coffee and getting motherly. “You’re spending lots of time with Harlan. Why not bring him here?”


“He has to work,” she said. “And I thought you liked him.”


“I do like him, but be careful. Especially if he’s like his brother.”


Careful. Her mother’s code for sex.


“Don’t worry Mom. I know the rules.”


But the rules were changing. Half the senior girls were doing it, or practically. All the ones that were going steady. And last month Raelene Bailey missed her period. She planned on telling Billy right after graduation.


“Don’t forget the car rules either. The Sanderson boys didn’t get cars like that to drive to church.”


Faithlin hoped her mother didn’t know about the race. The brother competition. Or that Harlan was letting her drive a little faster every time. She couldn’t wait to really open up those Strombergs out on the flats.


After she cleaned her room, she helped her mother with the laundry before going down to the garage. The Sanderson and Sons sign needed repainting which reminded her that Raelene would be having a baby. Someday, she thought. Someday she’d have a son with Harlan to carry on the tradition. But not until they finished having fun and were settled down.


The work bay doors were closed, but she heard the clink of metal and ratchet sounds and found Garrett working on his engine. He looked up when she came in.


“Harlan’s making a hot run to Auto Supply. Poppadoodle needed parts in a hurry.” He closed his hood, giving her his Elvis smile. “And now that his car is faster . . . well . . . you know.”


Faithlin felt the usual quiver of attraction. He was something.


“It is faster,” she said. “You could have said ‘Congratulations.’”


“That would have been premature.”


Something in Garrett’s tone set off an alarm. He was putting away the tools, but she saw the J. C. Whitney boxes on the workbench.


“What have you been doing in there now?”


“Get in.” He grinned and opened the passenger door. “I’ll show you.”


The top was down, and her hair blew everywhere. Her skirt was blowing halfway up her legs, and she pinched it between her knees to hold it down. Garrett headed up River Road to the flats. Once or twice, when the car began to skid, he smiled and turned into it, driving with one hand and accelerating. He was quite the driver, but she’d always known that.


The wind blew the engine sound away, but a muted roar followed them onto Hastings Flat. Garrett did a couple fast starts, letting her feel the acceleration and ran the tach into the red in second gear. Then he opened up, telling her she’d probably wet her pants if they met Harlan now Half his words were blown away and she ignored the rest. It was just Garrett talk.


“Let me drive,” she said. “I want to try it.”


“What if it’s more than you can handle?”


There it was again, that infuriating tone, but he stopped to let her slide into the driver’s seat. Faithlin knew he’d changed the engine; she’d known it from the sound, but she really felt it now. Felt the heavy throb of power when she revved up. The car was like a living thing when she let out the clutch and it almost got away—it was lighter than the Vic—but she corrected and kept the pedal down. My God. The car was very fast. She accelerated out of second and into high with the wheel so sensitive it felt like flying. Incredible. Faster than she’d ever driven.


Her hands were trembling when she stopped and shut the engine off. Garrett opened the hood and showed her what he’d done. There were two air cleaners in there now. Big ones. He’d added another carburetor.


“Dual quads,” he said. “Two four barrels, in case you didn’t know.”


She did know. He started to explain but Faithlin shook her head. “Harlan told me this would happen,” she said. “He knew you’d do something,”


“It will be more fun if Harlan doesn’t know.”


His voice was low and husky and he was smiling, more superior than ever. He stood so close she could smell his after shave. Her stomach fluttered and she didn’t trust herself to speak. She walked around the passenger side and got back in the car, but Garrett followed her and stood so close she couldn’t close the door.


“Harlan’s just a kid,” he said. “He’ll always be sucking hind tit.”


“You’ve got such a mouth,” she said, but she was remembering Harlan’s lips nuzzling at her breast.


And Garrett’s hands were on her shoulders, pressing her down against the seat. “Garrett,” she said, but he was leaning in and kissing her. And she let him, going with it. Not exactly kissing back, but curious. He tasted of coffee and kissed her hard, trying to overwhelm her with passion, like she’d be swept away She nearly was. Because Garrett Sanderson was faster than the car he drove. His hands were under her skirt and sliding up her legs. Fast. His fingers twisted in the waistband of her panties and pulled. She didn’t mean to—no time to think—because she lifted her hips and let him take them down. They were off and gone before she could change her mind and stop the momentum.


She’d always known it would come to this. But now she knew how it had to end. She pushed him away, saying, “Garrett, No!” feeling dizzy, almost sick inside. She told him No! again, and then again, afraid he wouldn’t stop, afraid she couldn’t, but kept saying it until she felt the animal heat begin to fade.


Garrett swore, but moved to let her up. “What are you saving it for?”


“For Harlan,” she said. “I want it to be Harlan.”


The sun came through the trees and dappled light played on her legs. She pulled her skirt down, still naked underneath, and pulled herself together. Garrett watched her, but he didn’t try again, and she tried to believe it was because he loved Harlan too.


 

Harlan drove the Vic into the second bay and opened the hood. It was running rough, skipping a beat and pausing when he floored it. He pulled down a drop light and got the tools to start adjusting. As much as he loved progressive linkage, the constant tuning was a nuisance. He turned up the idling screws and tinkered with the fuel mixture, but he’d been expecting Faithlin and finally gave her a call.


“Raelene is here and needs to talk,” she said. “I’ll be over later.”


“Garrett’s acting weird,” he said. “Pop sent him out with the fuel truck, but he wants another run today. Probably cranked up something on the Chevy. Planed the heads or something.”


Harlan thought she’d love to race again and was surprised at her reaction.


“But we beat him,” she said. “You won, Harlan. Why race again?”


“He’s my brother.” Harlan laughed. “I have to give him another chance.”


“Do you?” Faithlin hesitated again. “I’m not sure he’d give you one.”


Garrett was right about women. Don’t expect them to make sense.


It was still early afternoon when Billy Stebbins pulled in with his old Plymouth. It was a ‘49, ten years old, but the body still looked good.


“The clutch is going,” Billy said. “Can you fix it so Raelene can use it while I’m gone?”


“Where you going? Didn’t her Daddy line you up for the day shift at the plant?”


“I enlisted. Two days ago, when I turned eighteen.”


Harlan whistled. Here was Billy Stebbins raising his hand and volunteering to leave town when everything he needed for a great life was right here.


“What about Raelene? She may not wait around for you to come home.”


“I haven’t told her yet,” Billy said. “It’s a graduation surprise. The car too.”


Harlan had been thinking about getting Faithlin a ring. Not engagement or like that, just a nice one that fit. She’d been wearing his class ring around her neck on a chain. It looked good but sometimes it got in the way.


They talked school for a while: graduation and parties, beer blasts and skinny-dipping, and then Harlan looked at the Plymouth. He’d worked on it before and guessed he could make some adjustments. Girls always rode the clutch, but if Raelene drove it right she could make it last until Billy came back. If he did.


“She’ll like the car, Billy. Park it behind Garrett’s and I’ll get to it next.”


Harlan found Faithlin’s panties when he was moving Garrett's car. They were under the seat. The wispy blue silk with lace trim and FFH. Under the passenger seat in Garrett’s car. An icy fist gripped his heart.


He’d worried about Dolby Rainer. Faithlin promised him nothing had happened, but now this. He stared at the monogram, remembering Garrett’s women and willing the letters to change. There’d been a Farrah and one called Foxy, but no FFH. Nothing even close. Harlan held them up and looked again. They were hers.


He went into the bathroom and pressed the silk against his face. His legs went weak and a wave of nausea twisted in his stomach. The shock of understanding took him to his knees and he began to cry. Dry, wracking sobs tearing him apart inside. He slumped over the toilet, crying and retching and tried to stop the rush of images flowing through his head.


He kept seeing them together, like they were in a movie, but Harlan was creating all the details and visualizing what they did. It was a strangely erotic torture, but he couldn’t make it stop. Nor did he want it to. Being the director, giving them directions and moving them in his mind brought a strange measure of relief. It gave him the perverse satisfaction of somehow being in control. He replayed the scene again, horrified but fascinated when he ran it in slow motion. The scene that would repeat forever in a movie that would never end.


When he finally stopped crying and the nausea went away, a sense of resignation settled in. His head felt cold and numb, but he was filled with an icy calm. The world was coming back and he’d have to face it soon. Because somebody was out there now, rattling around in the office.


It was double-crossing Garrett—his son-of-a-bitch brother—knocking on the bathroom door and running his motor mouth. “Quit playing with your dipstick in there? You can’t check Faithlin’s oil if it’s all worn out.”


Harlan flushed the toilet and turned on the water in the sink. He didn’t trust himself to speak, but didn’t have to; Garrett’s mouth was in overdrive.


“She’s been holding out so long it’ll be like putting a railroad spike into a BB Gun.” Garrett rattled the door and laughed. “Fire up the Ford and follow me out to the Flats. I’m ready to get it on again.”


Harlan put the panties in his pocket and opened the door to look his brother in the face. Expecting to see . . . what? Deceit in his eyes? Guilt and shame for the betrayal? But there was nothing. Harlan should have known. Garrett didn’t even understand that it mattered. It was as though it never happened. Nothing bothered his brother. Garrett was the way he’d always been; Harlan saw that clearly now. And he understood that Garrett would never change; it was the way he would always be.


But Garrett was already outside calling back, ‘Let’s go,’ and smiling when he started his car. He closed his eyes and listened to it rumble to life. Harlan followed him, fighting to control his emotions but hearing the throaty resonance of the Chevy’s engine. He knew why his brother wanted the rematch.


Garrett grinned and gave it a little gas. “Did you look under the hood when you moved my car?”


Harlan forced himself to speak. “Not under the hood.” His voice was detached and cold, like it was coming from an observer far away.


But Garrett was oblivious. He grinned again before he slipped the Chevy into gear. “Bring Faithlin when you come,” he said. “We’ll give her a little thrill before the race.” He revved his engine and pulled away, heading for the Flats to beat his brother and take his girl. Same as always.


Harlan was working on Billy’s car when Faithlin drove in. Knowing that she’d been looking under Garrett’s hood added fuel to his smoldering rage. He watched her park her mother’s car and check her hair in the rearview mirror. Once an endearing gesture, but he was seeing her clearly now and steeled himself to meet her eyes.


“Garrett’s up on the Flats,” he said. “Waiting for us to race.”


“But what if he made changes to his engine?” Faithlin’s blue eyes were filled with guile. “You always said he finds a way to beat you.”


“He always has,” he said. “So we’ll surprise him.”


Harlan slid his hand into his pocket and touched her panties. They were the confirmation of her betrayal, but the contact gave him courage. He went over to the Vic and opened the driver’s door. “Warm it up for us,” he said. “Give it a road test while I finish Billy’s car.”


“Do you want me to—”


“Run it out to the Flats. I’ll be ready when you come back.”


Faithlin was a beautiful girl, and Harlan felt his heart twist when she started the car. He traced the chrome V along the door. The Vic was a beautiful car too and it was not too late.


But the movie was running in his head and the moment ended; it was too late for regret.


Harlan gave her the Sanderson Wave when she drove away. The animal was out of the cage. He went back inside to work on Billy’s car. Raelene would need a lot of clutch with Billy gone, and the pressure plate was worn. Harlan was making the adjustments when he heard the sound of sirens heading for the Flats.




Copyright 2014 © by Steven J. Cahill.

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