“Perhaps one of his victims has exacted revenge?” the raspy-voiced homicide detective said as he exhaled cigarette smoke into the face of one of the hotel’s security detail. Having just recently been acquitted on a technicality of 39 charges of producing child pornography, drug trafficking, and weapons offenses the Russian multimillionaire had been celebrating his release in high style. Until his end came with another type of bang.
“It would seem there was an explosive device of some sort in the man’s ball cap,” the medical examiner commented as his team placed the body on a stretcher. The autopsy would be a formality to confirm the cause of death. “Anyone know what he was doing wearing a ball cap at a formal gathering like this?”
“It’s the race crowd. Team hats were everywhere,” someone offered. “So the victim’s hat detonated, while he sat in the bathroom, blowing his lid off?” the detective had asked through a smoker’s cough, making sure he understood exactly what had happened.
“Boom,” the Medical Examiner said, gesturing with both hands to demonstrate an explosion.
Sochi may have hosted the Winter Olympics back in 2014, but the cold-weather athletes and the massive trademark flame were now long gone. The sound of record-setting runs on the ski slopes overlooking the city on the Black Sea had been replaced by something just as sleek but noticeably faster and with a much more intriguing sound. The global traveling circus that is Formula One racing had returned to Sochi. The cocktail party held for the drivers and wealthy VIPs was in full swing on the hotel’s veranda, overlooking a massive swimming pool, surrounded by palm trees and overlooking the sea. While the technological advancements over the years had made this type of racing safer, death was always a possibility on the track. Almost no one had expected it here, in the midst of a party.
Formula One driver Bryce Winters, a world champion, was one of the star attractions at the gathering and he’d taken the elevator down from his suite on the top floor of the Radisson Blu hotel just past eight o’clock. With his confidence and enthusiasm at full throttle he made the rounds of the party, shaking hands, posing for photos, hugging, kissing, joking. The intensity of the day, pushing the edge during the three qualifying sessions and being “on” for the countless interviews he’d given had exhausted him but he could turn the charm back on and work a room like no other. He pretended to throw a punch at boxing’s heavyweight champion from Britain who had come to meet the American racer. A beautiful Russian fashion model, her flowing blonde locks coming to rest on the shoulders of a blood red dress was craving his attention and tried her best to lure him in with her piercing blue eyes.
By nine o’clock Bryce was hoping for a good night’s sleep to prepare for tomorrow’s race. There’d be two hours of exhilarating acceleration, punishing G-forces of the high-speed left and right hand turns, eighteen in all again and again for 53 laps, racing with rivals at over 200 miles per hour. But first, of all things, he needed to attend to something in the men’s room. He’d spotted his prey and the stalk had begun. Minutes later, his business behind him, he came upon two familiar faces. Jack Madigan, an engineer on the race team, was leaning against a wall, beer in hand, talking with an attractive blonde Bryce would normally have been drawn to, an American, Joan Myers. Bryce acknowledged his friend with a smile but frowned at Myers and walked past them without saying a word. It was late and he was done.
In the elevator headed back up to his suite, he thought of his home far away in his country’s Mountain West. He longed for it. Park City, Utah has something for just about everyone who enjoys the outdoors, particularly if you are a patriotic American. The area Bryce chose to live in was spectacular and full of mountains, moose, elk and mule deer. It was the home of the Sundance Film Festival and was a ski-lovers playground for the rich and famous. A good number of retired Navy SEALS and Army Rangers called the Park City area home, and it was also the site of the Olympic Winter Games in 2002, where many other Americans had earned medals of their own. Athletes intending to represent their countries in ski and snowboarding competitions continued to train at the Olympic Park. When he was in town, Bryce often went there to offer encouragement and, more times than he could remember, to offer financial help where needed. The area was flush with patriots and proud Americans of all sorts. Representing his country, as the lone American competing in the global arena that was Formula One, he felt proud and swore to always do his best. He wished someday that the walls of his trophy room there might bear an award from the government for his clandestine service, but he knew that would never come to pass. CIA operations were top-secret and known to only a handful of people: his handler Myers, his accomplice Madigan, and just a few more back in Langley, Virginia.
The next morning, after a short ride in a van with the team publicist and Bryce’s personal aide to the paddock area of the race circuit, he took time to pose for photos with the early birds, the race fans that showed up at sunrise to get the best spot on the fence line to see their heroes up close. He spent a few extra minutes with a young Russian family that had dressed their three children up like little racers in Bryce’s team colors. They didn’t speak English but their gestures and smiles between them were universal and easily understood. When the woman pointed with concern to Bryce’s battered knuckles as he signed an event program for them he smiled as if they were okay.
“Punched a hotel wall in frustration last night,” he uttered knowing she wouldn’t understand. He spent the morning joking with the dozen or so team members doing a last-minute inspection of his Mercedes-powered canary yellow and fire engine red Formula One car. News of the murder spread through the paddock at the track almost as fast as the cars racing in a preliminary event leading up to the F1 race. Bryce shook his head in amazement, stunned to hear that such a thing could have happened. When he encountered Jack Madigan, they simply fist-bumped, smiled, and went about their racing business.
More to come when DEADLY DRIVER launches this summer!