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Deadly Driver

EXCERPT

At the Cataluña race circuit just outside of Barcelona, the silver safety car, a sleek Mercedes AMG coupe, screamed down the front stretch. It was media day, twenty-four hours before any of the Formula 1 cars would take the first lap of preseason testing. As Bryce gave the car all it could take without spinning out, his shotgun rider held tight and laughed nervously to camouflage his panic. He’d challenged the F1 driver to scare the hell out of him, and Bryce was doing that and then some.

The G-forces of the sweeping turns, the acceleration, the heavy braking, then next turn coming on so quickly, and then another, and then another. Living on the edge was what Bryce loved to do, at least on the track. But he had no idea he was slowly killing the man riding with him.

As he brought the car back onto pit road he looked to his right and raised his hand to give the VIP a fist bump. Shocked by what he saw, Bryce made an erratic turn and stopped in front of the silver Medical Car and the two trauma doctors who were leaning on its fenders. The man’s head was down and his face a dark blue, in stark contrast to the shiny white of his open-face helmet.

It took only seconds for them to react to Bryce’s gestures and pull the man from his seat and lay him out on the concrete. The team administered CPR and used their portable heart defibrillator as Bryce stood by ready to help if needed. From the primary doctor’s expression, Bryce knew the ride had been the man’s last.

Journalists and camera operators had converged on the scene, startled by the unexpected move by the American driver. Bryce had ignored their questions as he watched the medical staff do their work and spoke briefly to the safety car’s race-weekend driver expressing concern for the man. Once the body was placed on a stretcher and loaded into the ambulance, he turned to the crowd. Everyone was shouting questions, all of it going out live and around the world.

First, he explained that he didn’t know the man. He said that he was just one of many VIPs scheduled for a hot lap, a thrill ride, around the circuit. He then offered his condolences to the man’s family and told the press he had nothing more to say. Journalists continued to call out questions as he headed for his team’s hospitality area, but then he caught himself and turned away from the newly branded Werner livery and quickly course corrected for his new one. Only two persistent journalists continued to pursue him. One caught his attention, slowing him from a fast pace.

“You said you don’t know the man who died while riding with you,” she said. “You didn’t know he was regarded as an enemy of the state, someone who challenged the government’s rule? He was also a ex-convict who used to deal cocaine across Spain and Portugal.”

Bryce kept walking but looked at her. “Nope, sure didn’t.”

She persisted. “ This man had powerful friends and powerful enemies. Are you at all worried that some may find you at fault for his death?”

Bryce shook his head. “Lady, the excitement killed him. He was a big man; maybe he had heart problems. Maybe they should post warning signs like they do on roller coasters. That’s all I have to say on the matter.”

He suggested to her that he needed to get something to drink and time to decompress. By this time one of the new team’s PR people had intercepted Bryce and escorted him into the private quarters they had set up for him on the second level of their hospitality area. Once inside he drank an entire bottle of an orange sports drink and sat down to take in his new digs.

There on the wall were the three photos that followed him wherever he went. Photographs of his father Paul, his uncle Pete and his first and only girlfriend Christy. All three were gone now. He looked to the Daytona photo, of him standing alongside Max Werner in victory lane. Bryce shook his head. His relationship with Werner had come to an end, and he felt very lonely standing there in Spain.

A knock at the door brought him back to here and now. His two bodyguards, earpieces and lightweight jackets to hide their hardware were on duty now that he was on site in his suite. A member of the PR team, a cute brunette with a South African accent, knocked and then stuck her head in and advised him that a representative from the American Consulate in Barcelona was there to greet him. “You saw their credentials? It’s not another journalist, you’re sure?” he asked. She nodded in the affirmative. “Do me a favor, and out how the hell I wound up driving around with a damn drug lord. Doesn’t anyone screen these people?”
 She smiled, made the money gesture with her right hand, and then stepped back and motioned for the diplomat to enter. A plain looking middle aged man, receding gray hairline, eyeglasses, plain blue suit and striped tie but with an American flag lapel pin in place. Someone just wants a photo I’ll bet, Bryce thought. The man presented his identification, shook Bryce’s hand, and then looked to the staffer with an expression that told her she could go. She glanced at Matt who nodded and closed the door behind her.

“Thanks for stopping by. I can’t think of—” Bryce began but was cut o in mid-sentence by a hand gesture from his guest. He watched as the man flipped the lock on the door and pulled an object from his coat pocket, placing it on the table in front of them. It was a small square black box, measuring perhaps 2” per side. A little red light on the top began to glow confirming it was functioning.

“Not a problem, Mr. Winters. I’m not actually with the consulate.” The man reached inside his suit coat pocket and presented another form of identification. Jason Ryan, CIA.

“I was wondering when I would hear from you guys again,” Bryce said, gesturing for his uninvited guest to take a seat. “ This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve seen those jammers before. But you need to give me more before we talk any further. I don’t know you.”

“Certainly. You used to report to Glen Gunn, and your handler was Joan Myers, codename Nitro – your choice, I’m told. Both were killed in Mexico. Back at the shop we’ve all been waiting to see who would replace them and what they’d decide to do with you.”

Bryce let out a sigh. He had hoped somehow that the bureaucracy in Washington might lose him in the shuffle and forget about him, but this visit ended that dream.

“Who did I last meet and where was it?” Bryce asked.

“The three musketeers, that’s what we call them back at Langley. You met them in Indianapolis in December. They’re old school, knuckle draggers as far as I’m concerned, but they come in handy when that sort of medicine- outside of the United States, of course, is prescribed. What they lack in stealth capabilities they make up for with e ort. They were pretty tight with Myers so, to be frank, I’m surprised they didn’t have someone take you out or at least have you roughed up. Some people don’t think that happens, that it’s not that easy to make someone disappear. But it happens every day. Sometimes it’s a car crash, sometimes – like today – it looks like a heart attack.”

Bryce did a double take at his guest.

“Yes, we did it – you and the CIA. We’ve had eyes on that fat bastard for some time. When we saw he was on the guest list for your ride-along we had someone drop a little something extra in his orange juice this morning at the media breakfast. Then you took him out and scared him to death. His heart was on the edge already. We teed it up and you put the finishing touches to it. The coroner will rule it a heart attack with contributing factors like his obesity and high blood pressure. Case will be closed before the casket is. Much more creative than just blowing the lid off a Russian animal in a bathroom like Sochi, don’t you think?”

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