Nicky Delgado, Chapter 10

Harvey did wear eyeglasses, wire-rimmed ones on top of a large nose. Nicky gathered with the rest of his family by the front door to meet the Sumners. They were a tall family; both parents exceeded Mark Delgado in height, and Harvey had several inches over Nicky despite being a year younger.

"You're looking nice tonight," Mrs. Sumner told Nicky's mother after all the introductions.

"Thank you," Linda replied with a faint smile, looking over her turquoise blouse and long black pleated skirt. "Mark's taking me out for our anniversary."

"How wonderful," said Harvey's mother, placing the palms of her hands together. "How many years is it?"

Linda answered softly. "Sixteen."

"Good meeting you, Mr. Delgado," Mr. Sumner shook Mark's hand a second time. "We'll have your daughter home by ten."

"That will be good," said Mark, ushering Emily and the Sumners out the door.

"What a nice family," said Linda after they had gone. "I'm sure Emily's going to have a good time."

"Hurry up and get your coat on, Linda," her husband commanded. "We have to go." He walked into the dining room towards the garage.

Nicky stood by his mother as she reached into the closet for her coat. She put it on, saying, "I hope you'll be all right staying home by yourself, Nicky."

"I'll be okay."

"Linda!" Mark called. "Come on."

"Coming, Mark," she hurried after him.

Nicky sat by the living room window and watched the Oldsmobile pull out of the driveway. He felt strange having the house to himself; not exactly lonely, but the place didn't seem like home with none of his family around. His parents rarely went out, and whenever they did before, Emily had always been home.

"Hah!" he exclaimed as an excellent idea struck him. I can watch Star Trek, he realized. He looked at the clock. I've missed only five minutes.

But before he reached the television set, a familiar rumble sounded in the driveway. Butch's car. He peered out the window and sure enough an Impala, like a tank fresh from battle, sat in the driveway.

Nicky opened the door for Butch, who came alone. "What are you doing here?" he asked.

Butch leaned against the doorpost. "Want to go to the races?"

"I would, but my dad's not home for me to ask him," said Nicky. "Why didn't you ask me sooner?"

"I thought your chances of getting permission would be better if I just popped by."

Perhaps, thought Nicky in disappointment. "Normally my dad's here," he shrugged forlornly. "He took my mom out tonight."

"Leave a note," Butch suggested.

Nicky gave the notion a second's thought, but knew his father would be angry. "I can't. How about if I ask my dad for next week?"

"This is the last week of the season," Butch straightened himself to make hand motions. "You have to come tonight. They smash all the cars during the last race."

"I could write a note," Nicky reconsidered. Why should he be the only one to stay home? "My father knows I would ask him if he were home."

"Go for it, Nicky," Butch encouraged. "You might even get home before your parents do."

With a small regret for missing Star Trek, Nicky decided to go. He left a note on the dining room table and locked the house. He took his lighter jacket with him since the evening glowed with Indian summer warmth.

"Where's Eugene?" he asked as he crawled through the driver's side to his seat.

Butch replied. "He comes to the races sometimes, but tonight he went to a war movie with Benjamin and Marshall."

"What about Irving?"

"Oh, Irving? He went too."

Nicky watched the trees lining the suburban streets as they traveled. He had spent so much time anticipating snow in his new environment that he forgot the leaves changed color. They were most colorful during this last week of September; brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red under the slanting sunlight. As they rustled in a pleasant breeze, the beauty enthralled Nicky.

"Butch," he said after they reached the freeway and the sights were no longer so intoxicating. "What's your real name?"

"Butch is my real name."

"I mean, on your birth certificate."

"That's it. Butch Terence Simpson."

"Your parents named you Butch?" The Simpson family never ceased to surprise Nicky.

"Marshall did."

"Why did your parents let Marshall name you?"

Butch told the story. "When Eugene and I were born, my mother had Benjamin agree that each one of them name one of the babies. You can guess who named Eugene."

"Your mom."

"Right. Well, my dad couldn't think of a name for me so he let Marshall."

"I bet your mom didn't like that."

"What could she say? She and my dad had an agreement."

Butch took an exit without touching the brake, forcing Nicky to hold tight to his door handle against the centrifugal force. He drove for several miles along a bumpy road; each bump seemed to ram itself into the car at the speed they traveled; and turned into a junk yard.

"I have to renew my license plate," said Butch.

He parked the car on a grassy knoll outside the gate. Nicky followed him to the rear of the car where he opened the trunk. It contained a heap of tools and grimy automobile parts. Butch selected several wrenches. As he slammed the trunk shut, a pot-bellied man approached them from a nearby house trailer. He was greasier than Butch's parts, with grit even ground into his naval pertruding from beneath a marginally recognizable red undershirt.

"Hi there," said Butch. "Remember me?"

"You're the Simpson kid."

"That's right. Do you mind if I grab a set of license plates?"

"Not at all," the junk dealer waved his hand. "Go on in." He returned to his residence.

"He does business with my dad's company," Butch winked at Nicky as he led the way through a wooden pedestrian gate in the fence.

Nicky had never visited a junk yard before. He saw wrecks arranged in rows; many without tires and wheels, some crunched like accordians, and very few with all their windows intact. Nicky walked past the black crusted hulk of a pickup truck that had been on fire, and shuddered.

"I need to look at the fresh wrecks," said Butch, leading the way to a line of junkers next to a crane.

He passed along the row, examining license plates. "Too bad this one's smashed up," he pointed at one plate crumpled with the rest of the front end of a car. "It's good through December."

He completed his review of the row and returned to a blue automobile near the beginning. "This Mustang died before its time," he stated. He knelt to begin removal of the front license plate.

"This is the best thing here," he grunted as he tugged with a wrench at a stubborn bolt. "It will do for one month."

Nicky observed the October 1972 sticker on the license. "Aren't you afraid of getting caught?" he asked his friend.

"Concerned maybe," said Butch. "But not afraid."

He removed the rear license plate after the front, tossing both of them into the trunk with his wrenches upon return to the Impala.

"Now to the track," he promised with a spin of tires leaving the junk yard.

The car bumped along the road until Butch careened onto an unpaved road. "This one's my favorite," he said. "Lots of curves."

He drove only thirty miles per hour, but the turns were sharp. Nicky felt the car sliding on the gravel on the corners, and saw stones tossed off the edge of the road by the tires. He would have been scared, except Butch obviously knew every inch of the route.

"Big pothole here," Butch announced, swerving around it.

Then came a straight stretch where the road bounded over a series of low hills. Butch accelerated past, giving Nicky's stomach the leaping feeling of being on a roller coaster. He slid to a halt at a stop sign at an intersection with a main road.

"Not bad," he looked at the trail of dust behind.

A mile down the main road, Nicky spotted a black and white checkered wall that had to be the race track. Butch followed the directions of parking attendants to a spot in a grassy field.

"How long have you been coming to the races?" Nicky asked as he followed Butch toward the track.

"Marshall's taken me since I was a rugrat," said Butch. "Then I started coming by myself, hitching a ride with some of the drivers before I got my car."

Nicky spotted a ticket booth as he got closer and felt blood rushing into his face. He hadn't thought about having to pay.

"I don't have any money."

"You don't need any," Butch led Nicky to the right. "I can get us into the pits."

The entrance to the pits was wide enough for the cars to get through. The way was unpaved and Nicky stepped carefully to avoid tripping on any of the dried ruts.

"Hi Butch," the attendant greeted.

"This is a friend," Butch pointed at Nicky.

The attendant waved them in.

"Here are the pits," Butch indicated the entire area with a sweep of his arms, looking as if he were in his favorite place in the whole world.

They walked forward into a beehive of activity as the race teams prepared their cars. The machines had already been unloaded from their trailers. Some looked in immaculate condition; with fresh bright paint, neatly stenciled numbers, and decals of major advertisers. Others showed strains of racing like an occasional dent and scoffed finish. More obviously low-budget entries were often painted in drab undercoat shades with spray-painted numbers and freehand letters advertising local sponsors such as Al's Auto Body.

Nicky saw a wide assortment of people too. Many of the men wore racing suits, decked with patches. Some carried their helmets with them. The others had predominantly jeans and collarless shirts, often ridden with holes, and always greasy. The women Nicky found more interesting. They came in various shapes; tall, short, average, thin, and chubby; but each tended to wear long wild hair and leather clothes revealing thighs and busts. Nicky assumed most of them to be girlfriends of the drivers and mechanics.

"Hey Butch!" one of the men in a racing suit called to Nicky's friend. "Tell Jerry I found a good transmission for him."

"Okay," Butch acknowledged. Another man, with arms covered to his elbows in grime, asked Butch about an alternator.

"It's in my car," said Butch. "Come out to the parking lot afterwards."

Butch stopped at a blue and red racer, Jerry's Nicky could tell by reading the name above the back wheelwell.

"Butch," a blonde curly-haired man with Jerry monogrammed on his race suit looked up from beneath the hood. "You barely made it in time."

"I stopped at the junk yard," said Butch. "Jerry, I want you to meet my friend Nicky."

"Pleasure's mine," Jerry shook Nicky's hand, covering it with oil. "Want a smoke?" He reached inside his suit for a package of cigarettes.

"He doesn't," Butch answered for Nicky.

"How about a beer then?" Jerry offered, indicating a cooler perched on a nearby stump.

"I'll have one," said Butch.

"Help yourself." Jerry lit a cigarette and returned to work on his engine.

Butch took a can of beer from the cooler and handed it out for Nicky who shook his head. Butch opened the can and took a sip. Nicky found a tuft of grass to wipe the oil off his hand.

"Ray says he has a transmission for you," Butch told Jerry.

"Great," said Jerry, reaching for a wrench on the edge of the car without moving from inside the engine block. "I want to put that in this weekend."

"Can I help?" Butch requested. "I want to learn how to do that."

"Be my guest. I'll call you up."

Butch took a second sip from the beer before setting it aside to rummage inside Jerry's trailer.

"Do you need this muffler any more?" he asked, holding up a rusty one.

"What do you want it for?" Jerry flicked his cigarette behind him, still peering under the hood. "It's shot."

"It's better than nothing."

"Take it."

Jerry grunted at his work and finished with a slam of the hood.

"There," he stamped his cigarette butt into the ground. "I've got that son-of-a-bitching belt tightend again. Check it out." He indicated the whole car.

"Jerry's got it ready for the demo at the end of the night," Butch drew Nicky in for a closer look.

"I see the glass has been removed," said Nicky. The only remaining window, the windshield, was plastic.

"That's always done for race cars," said Butch. "Look. He's moved the gas tank to where the back seat should be."

Nicky saw it. "Why do you smash your race car in the last race?" he turned to ask Jerry.

"I don't need it taking up garage space all winter," Jerry's teeth gleamed white behind his dirty face. "I'll get a new one next spring."

"Me too," said Butch. "I'll be old enough to race."

An announcement came over the public address system for the first heat. Butch helped Jerry put away his tools and walked with Nicky behind the race car as the driver snaked his way out of the pits. Engines filled the air with earsplitting noise, and the smell of oil became even more predominant.

Butch took Nicky to a set of bleachers reserved for observers from the pits. The track was a paved oval, a quarter mile around according to Butch, and the grandstands for paying customers were jam-packed. Everyone stood for the national anthem. Nicky watched the flag raised against the gathering dusk. Then a dozen roaring cars, including Jerry's number 20, appeared on the track for the first heat.

The cars fumed smoke and fire. The drivers swerved their machines from side to side during the warmup laps. "They're warming the tires," Butch explained.

The field took the green flag from a running start with Jerry in the middle of the pack. Butch and Nicky cheered as their driver worked his way toward the front. Then the leader spun out and the blue and red number 20 surged into first place. The pace slowed under a yellow caution flag brought out to allow the spun out car to get back under way.

The green flag came out, allowing the cars to resume racing, and Jerry led the way with a black car on his tail. They completed another lap, passing beneath a white flag as they crossed the start-finish line.

"One more lap to go," yelled Butch. "Come on Jerry!"

Jerry continued to lead as the racers passed in front of Butch and Nicky, but the black car shot ahead of him in the final turn and finished first.

"Jerry almost won," said Nicky as the winner paraded for a lap holding a checkered flag out his window. Banks of lights around the raceway had replaced the sun as a source of light.

"It's all right," replied Butch. "He still qualifies for the feature."

Three more heats followed and a consolation race for the drivers who failed to qualify for the feature. Then sixteen cars lined up for the main race with Jerry starting in the seventh position.

The feature was at first a cleaner race than the consolation, which had a number of crashes. Jerry didn't fare very well as he dropped further behind in the pack and got lapped. The race was scheduled for fifty laps, and with about fifteen of them left a pileup occurred in the far turn. One car slid over the embankment, and another slammed against the wall to bring gasps from the crowd. Jerry avoided the mayhem by cutting across the infield, kicking up clouds of dust as he did. He drove into the pits as the rest of the cars were stopped by a red flag.

"Jerry's going to save it for the demo," Butch nudged Nicky.

Emergency vehicles converged on the accident. The crowd cheered as the driver climbed out of the car against the wall; seemingly uninjured, but he was taken away in an ambulance nevertheless. A tow truck hauled the wreck away, and another one pulled the car from behind the embankment. The other cars involved in the mishap limped away under their own power.

The track crews spread sand all over the scene of the crash before the race was resumed. An orange and blue car, numbered 31, charged into the lead at the green flag.

"It's Ray!" Butch pounded on Nicky's shoulder.

He cheered Ray on for several laps before slumping in his seat disgusted.

"What's the matter?" asked Nicky.

"He's been blackflagged."

"What does that mean?"

"He has to go into the pits for leaking oil or something."

Sure enough, number 31 exited for the pits on the next lap and the black car that had won the first heat also won the feature. An intermission followed, so Butch and Nicky returned to the pits.

"What happened out there, Jerry?" Butch inquired.

Jerry sat on the hood of his car, drinking a beer. "My turbo gave out," he frowned. Then he smiled. "Don't need it for the last race though."

Then Butch asked Jerry questions about tuning up a car; gapping spark plugs and other things that didn't interest Nicky.

An announcement bellowed over the loudspeaker. "Hold on to your seats, fans. It's time for the last race of the year."

Cheers erupted from the stands around the track.

"Better get back to your seats," said Jerry, tossing his empty beer can into his trailer. "Watch me kick some ass."

Nicky returned with Butch to the bleachers. This last race is going to be interesting, he thought in anticipation. I wonder how the drivers keep from getting hurt.

He found out when the cars came out of the pits. They went backwards. Nicky noticed that none of the immaculate cars were participating in the smashup derby.

The green flag dropped and the cars charged around the track in reverse, jostling each other like hogs going through a corral. Nicky laughed at the sight. Fenders dragged along the track, generating sparks, and sometimes fell off. Hoods and trunks popped open, impairing the view of the drivers.

Sometimes a car got shoved against the wall by the others and stalled. This happened to the black car and Jerry backed into the front of it with a loud crunch.

Butch's screams drowned out the applause of the crowd to Nicky's ears. "Way to nail him, Jerry!"

Steam hissed and fluids dripped from the crumpled front of the black car. Jerry drove on with his rear end shoved into the air but, despite the trouble this gave him in seeing where he was going, he won the twenty lap race.

Butch and Nicky ran alongside the victorious number 20 as Jerry backed his way to his spot in the pits. Jerry and Butch shouted to each other.

"How did you like that, Butch?"

"All right, Jerry. You said you were going to kick ass."

Jerry parked his car and went straight to the cooler for a beer. Butch and Nicky both turned down his offer of a draft.

"My machine came through that better than I thought it would," said Jerry, wiping a dribble of beer off his chin with his forearm. "I might have some parts I can give you."

"Great," said Butch, taking hold of his muffler. "I'll see you later this weekend."

"Okeydoke," Jerry held out his beer can as a means of waving good-bye.

The man wanting the alternator waited at the Impala when Butch and Nicky arrived. Butch opened the trunk to give him the part and stuffed the muffler inside.

"That was a fun time," Nicky told Butch as they waited in line to get out of the parking lot.

"It's barely past ten," Butch looked at his watch. "Want to stop by my house for a bite to eat?"

Nicky wanted to accept the offer. He had eaten just one hastily prepared sandwich before his parents left, and had been famished since the fourth heat.

"No," he said reluctantly. "Let's try to beat my parents home."

Read Chapter 11.

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