“The Power of 3”
By Kellyanne Lynch
22 April 2003, 12:30 PM – 29 December 2003, 11:30 AM
5 – The Count Down
Steve pounded up the steps of the Budweiser rig, clutching the threat in a balled-up fist. His feet clattered across the metal floor, toward the darkened back of the transporter. Squinting, he cried, “Teresa!”
A figure emerged from the shadows. “She’s not here, Steve.”
Sneakers squeaked to a halt. “What do you mean she’s not here?” Steve furrowed his brow. His eyes made contact with the dark set belonging to Ty Norris, the executive vice president of DEI. Raising his free hand, Steve explained, “She told me to meet her back here, that she wanted to meet with all of DEI.”
“Well, she spoke with NASCAR, and they want to meet with all the teams, not just ours.” Norris crossed his arms over the front of his navy polo shirt. “She and everyone else are over in the media centre.”
Steve raised an eyebrow. “Then how come you’re still here?”
Pursing his lips, Norris widened his eyes at the other. “Be-cause… I was waiting for you to get back.” He patted the driver’s shoulder. “Come on, Steve, we’d better get over to that meeting.”
Steve watched the CEO tread across the hauler, before dropping his sights to his closed hand. Opening his fist, he looked at the paper in his palm. He glanced at Norris, then at the note. Steve heaved a sigh.
Glancing over his shoulder, Norris caught sight of the stationary driver. He stopped in his tracks. “Are you coming?” Pacing back to the other, he nodded toward the paper. “Steve, what is that?”
Steve bit his upper lip. Scratching his left shoulder blade, he furrowed his brow, and took in a deep breath. “Um…” He crinkled the note in his fingers. “I… kinda want to talk to Teresa about it.”
Norris reached for the note, but Steve closed his fist. “Can you please let me see it?” he asked. Smirking, he added, “I mean, come on! We’re friends… right?” Norris emitted a weak chuckle.
The right-side corner of Steve’s lips turned upward. “It’s just that… she knows all the details, and it’s going to be hard to explain.”
Norris wrapped a clammy hand around Steve’s fist. He pried at the digits, and pulled them back. With his other hand, Norris snatched the note. Steve sighed as the CEO opened it. Norris’ chocolate-toned eyes scanned the two lines. “’Now don’t be sad’?” he read aloud. “’’Cause two out of three ain’t bad’? Steve, what the hell is this?”
“See, I told you it was going to be hard to explain!” Steve huffed. Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, he stated, “Listen, Ty, I just want to talk to Teresa!”
Norris curled his upper lip, and held out the note. Narrowing his eyes at the Pennzoil driver, he sneered, “What’s the matter, Steve? Don’t you trust me?”
A breath escaped through Norris’ nostrils. Marching forward, he stood nose-to-nose with Steve. “Listen, jock, I don’t know what’s going on, but it is not going to ruin the race! Whatever’s happening – whatever little scheme you’ve cooked up to keep yourself in a Winston Cup ride for one or two more races – is not going to work.” He thumped his forefinger into Steve’s chest. “You just do your job! That is, while you still have one!”
Steve threw his hands into Norris’ shoulders. The other stumbled, his back thumping into the inside wall of the hauler.
“Why don’t you go count your money, you selfish bastard?” Steve growled. Turning on his heels, he ran out the door. He raced across the paddock, and, rounding a corner, reached the media centre. Steve threw open the double doors.
Heads turned. Dozens of sets of eyes followed him down the centre isle. Steve glanced from mechanics to drivers to crew chiefs’ faces, and then looked straight ahead. Behind a podium on a modest stage, NASCAR president Mike Helton coughed into his fist. Helton gazed at the Pennzoil driver over his knuckles.
Steve slid into an empty seat beside Jimmy Spencer. He made eye contact with the Sirius driver, who grimaced, and rapped an open palm against the Pennzoil racer’s back. Turning to Helton, Steve found the other staring at him.
The NASCAR president closed his eyes. When he opened them, he swept his sights across the room.
“As I was saying,” Helton articulated into the microphone attached to the stand, “There is no reason to panic, any of you. We have enlisted the help of a local security agency to better protect the teams and families in and around the garage area, track, and motor coach lot. We have also confiscated the #8 car, so that officials can ascertain the precise cause of its malfunction on the track. Answers should be available in the coming days. We will keep you informed concerning any new developments, especially in regard to Johnny Sauter’s condition.”
“Excuse me, Mike?” Richard Childress raised his hand. “Since qualifying has been postponed until tomorrow, are you expecting us to clear the paddocks for the day?”
Helton nodded. “Yes, everyone should pack up… I’ll give y’all until six o’clock.”
“Mike!” From the other side of the room, Kevin Harvick stood up. “Mike, do you think what happened to Junior this morning is related to the threats?”
Murmurings swept the room. Steve gulped, and looked into his empty palms.
“Kevin, I’d rather not discuss that in full here,” Helton furrowed his brows. “The short of it is, no, I don’t. Junior’s incident involved a rowdy fan at the mall, whereas the notes have cropped up in places that outsiders cannot breech…”
“You mean you think it’s one of us?!” someone cried. The room erupted in chatter.
Helton held out his arms, palms down. Raising and lowering his hands, he called, “Settle down! Settle down, folks! Why don’t we all get some rest? It’s been a trying day. I advise everyone to stay calm, and ask that you do not discuss any of this with the media. What these people want is attention. Let’s not give it to them. Go back to your motor coaches. Go spend time with your families and loved ones.” Helton stepped down from the stage.
Steve ran a hand through his gray-flecked russet hair. Beneath the buzz of conversation, he mumbled, “It had to be an insider.”
“What?” Furrowing his brow, Jimmy Spencer cocked his head to the side.
Steve closed his eyes. “Never mind.”
“Look, Steve,” Jimmy grimaced. Clasping a hand to the other’s shoulder, he voiced, “You don’t look so good. Take Helton’s advice. Go back to your motor coach, and get yourself some rest.”
Nodding, Steve sighed. His gaze roamed the room, searching for the form of Teresa Earnhardt. He caught sight of her long, dark brown hair, as she flung it over her shoulder.
“Excuse me,” he murmured to Jimmy. Steve bound from his seat, and marched across the media centre. Weaving around chairs, and nudging past people, he drew nearer to his car owner. Teresa gathered her purse from the chair beside her. She opened it, and rummaged about inside.
As Steve closed in, Buffy Waltrip burst through the crowds behind the rows of chairs at the back of the room. Strands of her blond tresses swung about her head as she looked in all directions. Catching sight of Teresa, she stumbled toward the other woman. For a second, her sights met Steve’s. The fright in her eyes turned his stomach, and he shuttered.
As he approached the women, he focused on the sheet of paper the two held between them. Steve read dark block letters that made up the tear-stained message:
3, 2, 
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