The Marriott Marquis hotel is situated on Times Square and surrounded by the sights and sounds that make the area a must-see for anyone able to make it to New York. Just a short walk from Sardis, Bryce managed to use his charm and good looks to get a single room for the night as cheaply as possible. He settled for the windowless room on the third level for $99, breakfast not included, and spent the rest of his night watching Sunday night football and then a motorsports show on ESPN that summarized the weekend’s action.
He steered clear of the mini-bar. Although the Beck’s beer, Pringles chips, and massive Toblerone chocolate bar looked like a party. All-in, they’d add $20 easily to his bill. Instead, he called it a night and looked forward to seeing what the people at the Chowder Society were all about.
Up early the next morning, he prepared for what was in store, figuring out for the first time ever how to use the iron to freshen the shirt he’d had stuffed in his backpack. Once at Sardis, he went up the steps and began walking around the banquet meeting room where three dozen or so men and women of all shapes and sizes dressed from casual in jeans and polo shirts to stylish dresses and tailored suits, were catching up over cocktails. A guest speaker would be introduced and lunch served soon.
Suddenly, someone decided to rain on his parade.
“Sir,” said the maître d’ as he tapped Bryce on the right shoulder. “Sir,” he continued, “this is a private function for members only. You’ll have to leave.”
Bryce overheard someone tell the maître d’ that he reminded them of a young, handsome actor Paul Newman – brilliant blue eyes and all.
“Follow me downstairs, please,” the maître d’ insisted, “or we’ll have the two policemen having coffee at the bar help find your way out the door.” The man was just doing his job, so Bryce relented.
“If you are here to make connections in the movie business you are in the wrong place,” the man told him as they reached the landing. “That group is into fast cars and auto racing so you are trying to crash the wrong party.”
“You didn’t know Paul Newman was a racer, too?” Bryce offered, but it was too late.
Bryce took a seat at the massive mahogany bar, two stools over from New York’s finest, and made small talk with the bartender until the police left. He considered making another run for the stairs but thought it best to call it a day and perhaps head back to Penn Station for the ride north and home. In a booth behind him, though, it was clear someone had intentions of an entirely different kind.
“You can’t ask me that,” the young woman sitting on the red leather booth bench on the street side of the bar said sternly. Bryce listened but noticed the mirror behind some of the liquor bottles that gave him a good look at what was going on.
“Just go away with me for the weekend,” the man sitting across from her pleaded. He was tall, balding, perhaps late fifties, gray suit and blue tie. But what stood out most to Bryce was the man’s arm stretched across the table; his hand was clutching hers. Nice Rolex, Bryce thought, but then focused on the girl and her body language.
She was perhaps early twenties and from her accent she was clearly not a New Yorker. London maybe? She wore a white, V-neck long-sleeve blouse and black slacks from what he could see. She was a natural beauty with little makeup and Bryce wondered if she was an actress, as attractive as she was, with that accent, sitting there in the theater district. She reminded him of Whitney Houston, early twenties, but a British version. Bryce watched as she yanked her hand away from the man. He reached for it again, this time leaning forward. His expression quickly changed to a menacing one.
That was all Bryce needed. He spun the barstool and spoke up. “Unless you two are rehearsing for a play,” he began, “I suggest you sit back a bit there, buddy.”
The man ignored Bryce and maintained his focus on the girl.
“Hey, shit head,” Bryce said only this time louder. That got the man’s attention. “Good, I didn’t see a hearing aide.”
The man looked around and then focused on Bryce. “Mind your own business.” He turned back to the girl again.
Bryce looked to her and saw the fear in her eyes. Speaking directly to her, he made his intentions very clear. “Now I’m going to suggest you get up and come sit over here for a minute. This won’t take long.”
The maître d’ had been around long enough to know where that was headed and managed to wave the two officers back inside just in time to witness it all.
She followed his suggestion. The man she’d been sitting with slid out of the bench seat, stood up, and took a swing at her man in shining armor. A second later, she was staring at the creep lying on the floor in front of her. He was unconscious, his nose shattered by the fast and hard defensive blow Bryce landed. Others in the restaurant chose to ignore the incident and continue eating while a few came closer to watch. Soon after, while one cop checked the man on the floor, the other congratulated Bryce for coming to the woman’s defense.
“You ex-military?” the officer asked. “That was a trained move.”
“My uncle was a Marine and showed me a thing or two.”
“Max Werner,” a man said introducing himself as he stepped in and extended his hand toward Bryce. “You are a lucky man,” he continued in a thick German accent. “If it wasn’t for the maître d’ and the security cameras above,” he said as he looked to the corner above them, “it could have been your word against his. Then it would have taken all day to sort this thing out. Well done.”
Bryce shook Werner’s hand but still showed concerned for the young Brit who had finished giving the patrolmen her statement. She thanked Bryce again, and then followed the police out to a waiting cruiser for the ride to the station where she would be pressing assault charges.
“Come, let me buy you a drink,” Max said, guiding Bryce to a barstool.
The two sat, and the German listened as Bryce retold the incident for what seemed like the twentieth time. Once Max asked him what had brought him to New York, what followed is what movies are made of. Bryce laid it all out for him; a race car driver in the city for a few days of sightseeing heard there were well-moneyed people who shared a passion for cars and racing gathering upstairs and he wanted to introduce himself to anyone who would listen.
“Most of the people in the group are here for networking, but many are just rich car collectors. One of them has one of Michael Schumacher’s first F1 cars gathering dust in an old garage somewhere near here.”
“And you, Mr. Werner, what brings you here?” he asked.
“Max – make it Max,” he insisted. Werner was about the same height and weight as Bryce, but the similarity ended there. Werner said he was in his early forties and Bryce had fought hard to hide his surprise. To him, the man looked to be in his sixties.
“I’ve seen that face before, Bryce,” he told him with a laugh. “Too much stress from running a big business, too many ex-wives, and a family history that not only makes me look much older than I am but will probably kill me long before someone my age should go.”
Bryce thought for a moment. He wasn’t sure if he should feel sorry for the man or what, but he went for the tension breaker.
“Any kids? Want to adopt one?” It worked and they both laughed as they finished their beers.
Then Max waved for another round. He went on to say that he had no children, none that he knew of at least, and that adoption wasn’t an option even if Bryce was already potty trained. He volunteered that his family owned a large number of diverse businesses around the world, but home base was Munich. Annual sales the previous fiscal had exceeded their goal of 11.5 billion euros.
“You’re definitely paying for these beers!” Bryce joked.
At Max’s urging, Bryce summarized the chronology of his racing exploits to date.
Growing up in rural Vermont, Bryce had stumbled across racing at an early age. It wasn’t the conventional types like NASCAR’s oval track racing that he’d seen on television – this type came roaring out of the woods. He heard it first and then saw a blue flash go by as he and his best friend were hiking above Colchester, near Burlington. He’d come across a championship-winning Subaru campaigned by Vermont SportsCar and he loved it. He took the Team O’Neil rally school course, trading work around the shop for seat time, and soaked in every minute of it.
But he had two concerns. He wanted to race with other racers, side-by-side, and he had no interest in just racing a clock. Once he did get a ride in a competitive regional car he crashed hard and a pointed piece of wood – a branch from a tree—had come through the windshield like a spear. It missed his helmet by inches.
He’d always heard a racers biggest fear was fire and he’d just experienced most drivers’ second biggest fear - something coming into the car. That was enough for him. He’d learned things there in the woods that day. He wanted to be a race car driver. He knew he was good, really good, behind the wheel. And wanted to do it on the oval tracks, not through the forest.
“Anyone can go around and around, boy,” Werner told him. “Strippers have been doing that with poles for centuries. How hard can it be?”
Bryce took offense at the remark and Werner must have seen it. “Don’t get me wrong. I know it’s not something just anyone can do. What I meant to say is making lefts and rights in open-wheeled cars and traffic has to be more of a challenge, and I would think more fulfilling.”
Bryce took his words in. He’d been prepared to challenge Werner to take some laps at Thunder Road in Vermont or Stafford in Connecticut. Heck, the guy had enough money to buy not just the cars but the tracks, too. But he opted not to. This guy could be the ticket to the big show, Bryce thought. Go along for the ride.
“Besides, if you want to go NASCAR racing you can count on what—twenty million people watching the Daytona 500 on TV? Formula One – open wheeled cars on circuits – grabs over a four hundred million people from a global audience. That’s bigger than the entire population of your country. Think of the potential. Think of the money!”
Bryce considered the cost of racing NASCAR versus Formula One, but that didn’t concern him. His plan was to become a driver for hire. In addition to winning races and championships, it was the sponsorship money and lucrative driving contracts he’d be looking for if he ever got the shot.
“Is your company involved in racing?” Bryce asked. “What brought you here today?”
Werner shook his head no. Then he related how he’d been invited to the luncheon, it turned out, by someone who was trying to get Werner to buy his company.
“Must be tiresome, people always asking for money, always trying to get into your pants,” Bryce suggested.
Werner shook his head yes and laughed.
“Well, don’t worry, I’m not going to. I just appreciate the drinks,” Bryce said as he downed his second beer and began to reach for his backpack.
“No need to rush,” Werner suggested. “We’re not finished here. No, I’m not in racing – not yet. Someday, when all the stars align, I want to win the German GP and the Formula One World Championship,” he said. “But only when all the pieces fit together like a fine Swiss watch.”
Werner ordered another round and excused himself to make a call and returned ten minutes later. He was smiling and Bryce had to ask why.
“I checked you out, Bryce Winters,” he began, “you’re a pretty good driver. A lot of race wins and a few track championships in New England. Congratulations. Now tell me,” he asked, “do you know where Lime Rock Park is? And can you be there in the morning?”
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