“The Power of 3”
By Kellyanne Lynch
22 April 2003, 12:30 PM – 29 December 2003, 11:30 AM
7 – 3 a.m.
Steve lay on his back, staring at a blank ceiling. Running a hand over his Labrador’s head, he murmured, “What’s the matter, huh? What’s the matter, boy? Can’t sleep?”
Harley opened his light brown eyes and looked at Steve. Grunting, he turned his head away from his master. Steve pet the dog’s back, watching as Harley’s stomach rose and fell with even, shallow breaths. The Pennzoil driver sat up in his sleeping bag.
A gray darkness hung over the media centre. Beneath it, over a hundred sleeping bags spanned so wide that few patches of floor shone through. Those that did sparkled in the slivers of moonlight that shimmered through the blinds across the windows. Everywhere else slept most of the individuals that made up DEI. Some snored, a few rolled around in their sleep. A distinct sniffling emanated from across the room.
Steve propped his back up against the wall, his sights scanning the media centre. Beneath a window lay Buffy Waltrip, her shoulders shuttering in time with the sniffling sound. Beside her was Teresa’s sleeping bag…
Teresa’s empty sleeping bag.
Steve furrowed his brow. His head moved side-to-side, squinting at every moment, and in the direction of every sound. His jackman scratched his nose. The front tire changer for the #15 team rolled over. Tony Eury Sr. muttered under his breath, his eyes clenched shut. Buffy sneezed.
A strip of light flickered behind Buffy. Steve’s eyes widened, and then squinted. Glowing close to the ground, the light came from beneath a closet door. The Pennzoil driver got to his feet. On tip-toe, he stepped over his dog, then over Danny Earnhardt. Steve wobbled. He stopped between Danny Earnhardt and Slugger Labbe, regaining his balance. He extended his foot over Michael’s crew chief.
“Borrow scuffs from the #1 pit!” Tony Eury Sr. exclaimed. Steve jumped, and tripped over Slugger. The driver’s knees sunk into the abdomen of Chris Crumley, the front tire changer for the #15 team.
“Sorry!” he hissed an apology, getting to his feet.
“No problem,” Crumley mumbled back. He rolled over and fell back asleep.
Steve stepped across a dozen more sleeping bags before reaching the closet. Rapping his knuckles on the door, he whispered, “Teresa?”
The door slid open. Steve’s eyes rested upon his car owner. Perched on a dusty blue crate, Teresa gazed back at the Pennzoil driver. Seeing her in a cerulean spaghetti-strap nightdress led Steve to glance at his own outfit – black sweatpants and a grey tank top.
Teresa waved him into the closet. Steve stepped in, pulling the door with him. The door creaked shut. He cringed.
“I saw your light on,” Steve gave Teresa a weak smile.
“Hi, Steve,” she grimaced. Glancing down her front, Teresa crossed her legs at the knee. She took in a deep breath. “I’ve received an update on Johnny. He sustained a mild concussion and a couple of bruises. The hospital just discharged him, and he’s headed home for the weekend.”
“That’s excellent,” Steve breathed. He inhaled sharply and sighed again. His sights wandered to the paper and pen in her hands. “What are you doing?”
“I’m just trying to figure this out,” she sighed. Steve glanced over her shoulder, and read what she had written in her elegant script:
Three blind mice
Three blind mice
See how they run
See how they run…
Athos, Porthos, Aramis:
All for one, and one for all.
3, 2, 
“These are the messages we’ve received,” Teresa explained. She pointed to each as she mentioned it. “Michael found the first one in his car, you found the second one scratched on the Pennzoil hauler, and Buffy found the third on her front door.” She looked to Steve. “I never asked you what the fourth one said.”
“The fourth one?” Steve’s forehead tensed. Teresa nodded. Biting his lip, he took in a deep breath. His brow relaxed. “Oh, the one I found in Junior’s motor coach. That one said, ‘Now don’t be sad, ‘Cause two out of three ain’t bad’.”
Teresa wrote the words below the third message. She drew the pen to the side of her head, and scratched her scalp. “Obviously, they all have to do with the number three. Two come from songs, one comes from a book…” her voice trailed off. “I can’t help but think there’s something more here.”
“At least you hope there is,” Steve replied. “Teresa, some crazy lunatic wrote these notes. I think they just thought up anything that had to do with 3.”
“Why would they leave notes at all? Don’t you think there has to be some kind of clue here?”
“Teresa,” Steve laid his palm over the hand wrapped around a pen. “Don’t beat yourself up over trying to figure this out. It’s late. You should be asleep.”
Slapping the pen onto a cardboard box, Teresa heaved a sigh. She closed her eyes and said, “I can’t sleep. Apparently, you can’t either. So help me figure this out?”
Steve released a heavy breath. “Okay. Fine.”
Teresa held a hand to her forehead, and stared at her paper. Thumping the tip of her pen into the page, she shook her head. “I’m actually not as troubled by the content of the notes as I am alarmed by where they turned up.” She looked her driver in the eye. “Think about it, Steve. Someone managed to get into the motor coach lot, break into Junior’s coach, and scrape a message into your hauler. All in broad daylight! Not to mention the note in Michael’s car… I’ve been thinking a lot about that one.”
Holding the pen to her lips, Teresa pressed it into her skin. “I’m almost certain that it got into his car after Johnny wrecked.”
Steve furrowed his brow. “What makes you so sure?”
“The message.” Teresa hunched her shoulders, and leaned into the paper. “It unnerves me the more I think about it. At first, I agreed with you, that the note had to be in the car when Michael first got in. It sounded possible he could have overlooked it. But then I kept thinking about what it said. ‘Three blind mice’. It’s an obvious reference to you, Michael, and Junior. And there’s no way anyone could have predicted that any one of you would run to Johnny when the #8 car wrecked, never mind all three. What are the chances that the note got in there ahead of time, and made such a chilling analogy?”
Steve wagged his head. “It seems more likely that we’re reading more into it than the note writer intended. I mean, the guy was obviously fishing for any saying that included the #3…”
“But what are the chances, Steve?” Teresa shook her head, her sights trained on the Pennzoil driver. “That, just before Johnny’s wreck, they’d know to use that reference, right then?”
Steve heaved a sigh. “I just can’t buy that,” he grimaced. “You know, they could have said ‘see how they run’ as in see how the three DEI cars run. I think it’s more likely that they were talking about the #8 car being tampered with.”
Teresa crossed her arms. “Well, whatever the case, this person has had way too much access around the track.”
Pursing his lips, Steve took in a deep breath. “Do you think… Helton sounds convinced that it’s an insider.”
“I really can’t see how it could be any other way,” Teresa breathed. She ran a hand through her hair. “I also doubt it could be just one person; I think it has to be several. I can see Junior being overpowered by only one other person – he was injured – but there is just no way one individual took down a healthy, six-foot-five man.”
“What about that crazy guy at the mall?” Steve asked. “Do you think he’s connected to the kidnappings?”
Widening her eyes, Teresa nodded. “Absolutely. I mean, Junior has never been assaulted by a fan like that.”
Teresa furrowed her brows at Steve, who lowered his gaze.
“An insider! Wow!” Steve chewed on his lower lip. Shaking his head, he added, “But who would it be? We’re all like family here!”
Teresa crossed her arms. “Well families have feuds and dysfunction. NASCAR is no exception.”
The two paused, staring into one another’s eyes. Steve took a step forward. He pivoted on that foot and swiveled back. Breaking from the other’s gaze, he groaned.
“All this is making my head swim!” he complained, holding a hand to his head. “Maybe I do need to get to sleep.”
Teresa nodded, and looked to her notepad. “You do need your rest. It won’t be safe to qualify tomorrow without it.”
“We’re racing tomorrow?!” Steve’s eyes widened.
Teresa shut hers, and nodded. “We sure are. Mike Helton assured me that NASCAR’s beefed up security, and that there’s no reason to alarm the fans.”
Steve threw up his arms. “So I’m racing!” Slapping his hands to his sides, he sighed. He paced toward the closet door.
Behind him, a voice called to the driver. “Good night, Steve.”
He glanced over his shoulder. “Good night, Teresa,” Steve murmured, flashing his crooked smile. As he slipped out the door, he whispered, “Don’t stay up all night thinking in the closet!”
Steve slid shut the door behind him. His sights lingered on the hand that grasped the knob. Watching the faint glow around his finger tips, he sighed. He turned to face his empty sleeping bag. He needed his rest. He needed a good night sleep before qualifying. He just couldn’t imagine going out there and qualifying alone, not when he had teammates. Not when they were gone.
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