“The Power of 3”
By Kellyanne Lynch
22 April 2003, 12:30 PM – 29 December 2003, 11:30 AM

6 – Three Left Behind

Teresa draped an arm around the shivering NASCAR wife. Around them and Steve, the building cleared. “Buffy, where are your girls right now?”

“I left them with Ann Schrader,” Buffy wept. She held the heel of her hand to her nose. “I, I just didn’t know what to tell them. I don’t know what to do…”

Teresa drew Michael’s wife into a hug. She rubbed circles across the other woman’s back, as Buffy cried into the shoulder of her emerald blazer. Steve caught her eye.

“Steve!” Teresa exclaimed. Buffy stepped back, and Teresa threw her arms around the driver. “I was afraid that something happened to you.”

Steve embraced his car owner, and then stepped back. He looked from Buffy to Teresa. “Why? What’s going on?”

“Michael’s gone,” Buffy sniffled. Steve’s eyes bulged in their sockets. “After he told me what’s going on, he went outside to go get Beavis, our dog. The girls and I were making dinner in the motor coach when we heard him calling me from outdoors. As I was headed to the window, I heard the sound of screeching tires. The dog was barking so loud…” She swallowed hard. “Michael wasn’t out there. I looked around the motor coach area, and then started asking people if they’d seen him. Nobody had.”

Drawing a deep breath, Buffy held up the note. “When I got back to the motor coach, this was tacked to the front door.” She pressed a hand over her face. “I don’t know what to do!” Her cry muffled through her palm. “What do I tell my children?”

Buffy lowered her head, and sunk into a chair. Dropping into the seat beside the sobbing woman, Teresa slung an arm around her. She handed her a tissue. Buffy accepted it and, holding it to her cheeks, shuddered beneath Teresa’s tricep.

Watching the women, Steve clenched his jaw. He held his hands behind his back, opening and closing his fists.

“Don’t tell Caitlin and Macy anything tonight,” Teresa advised. “Let them sleep over the Schraders’, and you can stay at my place. We’ll inform NASCAR of what happened, file a report with the police, and then pray for the best. Hopefully, Michael will turn up tomorrow at the track when it’s time for morning practice.” She exchanged glances with Steve.

The Winston Cup driver cleared his throat. “Um,” his voice cracked. “I don’t know how to tell you ladies this…” His voice trailed off. Teresa narrowed her eyes at him. “I, uh… Junior’s gone too.”

Teresa bolted upright. “What?”

“Somebody broke into his motor coach.” He nudged his head toward the note. “And they left a message like that one.”

Teresa jumped out of her seat. “I’m going to go tell NASCAR,” she stated. “Something needs to be done about this right away.”

Teresa had taken a couple steps toward the centre isle when Steve grabbed her elbow.

“You’re not going alone!”

Raising her head, Buffy gazed at the two through her tears. Mascara streaked either side of her face.

Teresa stared at the hand on her elbow, before gazing into Steve’s eyes. “Then you’re coming with me,” she spoke evenly. Steve looked from one bold eye to the other, and back.

“I’ll go,” his hushed tone replied. He turned to the other woman. “And, Buffy, I’d like it if you came with us too. Then we’ll go talk to the Schraders.”

Slowly, Buffy nodded. She wiped her eyes, blew her nose in the Kleenex, and arose from the chair. On her way out of the media centre, walking to Teresa’s left, Buffy threw out the tissue.

The three strode through the garage area. Buffy and Steve were a few paces behind Teresa, who reached the door to the Winston Cup big officials’ hauler first. When she turned the knob, she met with resistance.

“It’s locked!” She furrowed her brows. Slapping her hands into her thighs, she exclaimed, “I can’t believe they went home already!” Teresa heaved a sigh. Turning to Steve and Buffy, she asked, “So now what?”

Steve ran a hand through his goatee, while Buffy raked her fingers through her blond mane.

“Call the police,” Steve voiced.

Teresa nodded. “I think it’s time that we did. They’ll probably come down here and question us next.” Glancing at her watch, she sighed. “While we’re waiting, I think we need to set up some sleeping bags in the media centre.”

Steve opened his mouth. Before he could utter a sound, Teresa continued.

“I was thinking… if Junior and Michael are gone, who might disappear next?” Teresa locked eyes with the Pennzoil driver. Crossing her arms over her chest, she breathed, “I think you’re in a lot of danger, Steve.”

He swallowed hard. “But wouldn’t…” his voice cracked. He cleared his throat. “But isn’t everyone in DEI in danger? Anyone connected to it?”

“That’s why I think we should have all of DEI sleep in the media centre tonight.”

“What about Caitlin and Macy?” Buffy asked.

Teresa turned to her. “I think they’ll be safe with the Schraders. I’m mainly worried about members of DEI who don’t have families.” She glanced at Steve before digging in her purse.

Steve stiffened his shoulders. “Then I need to go get Harley.”

Nodding, Teresa pulled a cell phone out of her pocketbook. “We’ll head over to the motor coaches and get your dog right now,” she murmured. She walked away from the hauler, with Steve and Buffy in tow. As she walked, Teresa dialed 911.

“Yes, I would like to report two kidnappings,” she spoke into the phone. Her high heel shoes sunk into the infield grass. “My name is Teresa Earnhardt… No, I don’t live around here. I’m at the New Hampshire International Speedway… Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip…”

Bile rose in Steve’s throat. He coughed, and stared into the Loudon skies. Pinks, purples, blues, and gold spanned the horizon in blurry strips over the Turn 2 wall. Before him, he watched the gold slip from sight. Closing his eyes, he listened to his feet patter across the grass. Thump, thump. Thump, thump. Thump…

“Steve, how are you doing over there?” a voice whispered. Steve opened his eyes, and met with Buffy’s.

“It just… it just doesn’t seem real,” he sighed. “I guess… I don’t know.”

Buffy nodded. “I know.” Her lips curved upward. “I keep thinking Michael’s back at the motor coach, wondering where the girls and I ran off to.” The small smile faded into a frown. “I hate not knowing where he could really be, if he’s okay…”

Steve slung an arm around Buffy, who slipped a hand behind his back. The two walked through the infield, listening to the sound of Teresa’s voice, and ignoring the painful words.

The phone beeped. Teresa dropped it into her purse. “The police will be here shortly,” she announced. Glancing at the others, she heaved a sigh.

Buffy looked to her, and the two made eye contact. Teresa put her free arm around Buffy. The three walked toward the sunset. Stepping out of the infield, they headed toward their empty motor coaches.

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