Chapter 56: Kidnapped
“Well well, it’s nice to see you again,” Mariela says as she double checks the bindings on Marie’s wrists and ankles to be sure that she can’t escape given anything.
“Where is he?” Marie questions, not caring about her current situation at the moment. The only thing that she cared about was seeing her fiancé.
“He? Who are you asking for?”
“Dale – you big dummy.”
“Now now, be nice to sister or else I may not let your fiancé be okay. Listen, he has a special plan for today so you don’t need to worry about him. You just got to hope that checker-”
“Where is he?” Mariela shrugs his shoulders.
“I can’t give you those details. Just hope that checkered flags are in your future and we won’t have to think about each other anymore.” Marie then looks at Mariela confused as she watches Mariela turn the race on.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’ll see.” Mariela then leaves the room, locking the door behind her before heading to where the other half was.
Chase gets done driver introductions and heads over to the car, leaning it against it with the team surrounding.
Nothing felt natural about the current situation that he found himself in. This wasn’t his car; it was his boss’ car. He wasn’t supposed to be running this race; that’s why he had run the race the day before. He hadn’t made any laps in the car so how was he to know what to do come the first laps in the race?
Beyond that, Dale was missing – Marie had now gone missing just moments prior – and yet here they were, set to start the 500 mile race that day, acting as if nothing was wrong. It was supposed to be ‘business as usual’ and ‘try to get the win’. How could they do that while worrying about where Dale and Marie were?
His heart also thought back to Alyssa and how worried she was when he finally told her that he daddy was missing on Saturday. He couldn’t bare to understand the pain and confusion that certainly she was feeling. Adding in the race with Chase running her daddy’s car and having to stay with Megan, the situation felt worse with each second that passed.
“So, are you ready to go?” Chase snaps out of his thoughts as his father walks over to where he is standing. “Nervous?”
“It doesn’t feel right, dad,” Chase reveals as he looks out over the roof of the car at the crowd in the stands. There was no hiding his feelings from his dad as his dad could read him like a book. “I shouldn’t be driving his car. I shouldn’t be standing here right now on pit road where I am.”
“I know it doesn’t feel right, but it’s the situation that we’re dealt. We just have to deal with it the best that we can.”
“That doesn’t mean that it’s easy, dad. I’m not focused on today’s race or winning – I’m focused on wondering where he and Marie are, and whether they’re okay.”
“They’re both going to be fine; just focus on the race today. Everything is going to work out.” Bill then gives him a small pat on the back before walking away, knowing that Chase needed some alone time before the start of the race.
“It’s going to work out. Why wouldn’t it work out? It’s not like anything has gone to plan lately.” He then rolls his eyes as he tries to shift all the thoughts of his mind.
“Listen to me and listen smartly,” he hears as he almost gets into what he calls ‘race zone’, snapping his eyes open to see the new team engineer Randy standing directly beside him. His eyes immediately focus off of Randy to the phone that lays in the young man’s hand, seeing a photo of Dale currently in his kidnapped spot. A cold shiver goes down Chase’s back immediately.
“Ja-” Chase goes to start.
“Don’t call Jason, or anybody, or else I will send word to end the pieces.” Chase takes a deep breath, feeling another shiver down his back as fear creeps in.
“What do you want?”
“You’re going to tell everyone that you need to go to the bathroom and I’m going to volunteer to lead you there. You’re then going to follow me to where I am going to take you without a single word. If you say anything, there will be no Dale, there will be no Marie.” Chase takes a deep breath, trying to clear his mind of fear and everything that is surfacing through it. He wanted to say something. He didn’t want to listen to what Randy had to say. However, every time he thought of saying something, he pictured a dead body at the other end of the spectrum.
“Fine…” Chase then turns around, straightening up as he gets set for their little plan. “How much longer till start time?”
“About 20 minutes till opening ceremonies. Why?”
“I need to run to the bathroom.”
“Uh no, please tell me that Regan didn’t share his stomach flu with you,” Jason chimes in from his spot with a couple of crew members. “You didn’t hang out with him, did you?” Chase shakes his head no, debating whether to break the cover of whatever thing Randy had planned.
“Listen, I’ll take him and make sure that he’s back in time, okay?” Randy offers as Jason shakes his head.
“Okay – hope you’re not catching the bug. Oh, and kill those nerves. No matter how today goes, it’ll be fine.” Chase gives a thumbs up as he heads off with Randy in toe, not letting him stray off.
The entire walk off pit road towards the garage area, a million different thoughts ran through Chase’s mind in what Randy could be thinking or doing next. Why did Randy have that photo? Why did Randy want to lead him away from the team? Why were they going through the garage area? What sick plan did Randy and Mariela have up their sleeve?
“May I ask what you want?” Chase finally breaks the silence as Randy continues to leave the youngster through the garage area. “Where are you taking me?”
“You’ll see very shortly and I suggest you move fast,” Randy answers as Chase looks at back at him confused.
“May I ask why?”
“You’ll see.” Randy then leads him around another couple of corners, before opening the door to a trailer and sending him inside. They then walk through the trailer and at the back, Chase’s jaw drops immediately as he sees Dale sitting there before him.
“Dale!” Chase runs over and wraps both arms around him, glad to see that he is alright.
“Hurry up and swap firesuits – you got about 15 minutes,” Randy instructs before leaving the room and closing the door, standing guard. Chase then looks at Dale confused, totally caught off guard by the comment.
“Pull the suit off, and the shoes, and give them to me,” Dale instructs as Chase sits down beside him, beginning to do so, confusion clearly written over his face.
“What’s going on Dale?” Chase wonders. “Why am I changing out of my stuff?” Dale then looks down, taking a deep breath, not feeling confident in saying the words himself.
“They’re forcing me to run the 500 today and if I don’t win, Mariela is going to kill Marie.” Chase’s jaw drops immediately as he hands his stuff over, watching Dale get into the suit. “Little tight but oh well.”
“You can’t run this race.” Dale then looks over at the young man.
“You can’t run this race, Dale. I can tell by looking at you how sore you still are from what happened earlier this week and this latter half while you have been kidnapped. You may think that you’re some kind of superman, but you can’t run this race.”
“You can’t humanly do it!” Dale fixes the suit once again as he looks in the mirror at himself. He could see what Chase was saying by how he felt at the current moment. He knew that it was going to be hell trying to complete this, but what choice did he have?
“I have to – I have no choice. If I don’t go out there, she has Marie – she’ll kill her now.” Chase shakes his head in disbelief as he sits back in the lounge area.
“I….I don’t know what to say, Dale. I guess I wish you the best and hope that it turns out okay.” Dale then looks back at him with smile. “I just wish there was something that we could do to stop this. I wish I would’ve hinted something to Jason when Randy dragged me away. I wish….”
“Chase, don’t beat yourself up over it, okay? It’s not your fault. It’s going to work out, kid. Just be careful with Mariela and try to listen to her as much as possible, no matter how annoying, to minimize what she does.” Chase looks up, fear clearly written on his face in the thought of what Mariela could possibly do to him. “I can promise that your parents will find you as soon as they hear that your ass is missing.”
“Have you seen my mother when she’s mad?” Dale chuckles, shaking his head yes as he remembered one experience where Cindy was right upset and it wasn’t pretty at all.
“See, that’s the spirit. Just be careful kid.” They then watch the lounge door open, seeing both Randy and Mariela standing there.
“Well well, look at you cutie,” Mariela comments, her eyes immediately darting over to Chase. “Aren’t you just adorable?”
“Hurt him and I can promise you that you haven’t seen nothing yet from any of us,” Dale starts as he walks towards the door. “He isn’t part of this at all. Once I’m in the car, let him go and don’t hurt him, please. He doesn’t deserve it.”
“Oh don’t you worry about a thing dear.”
“Good luck Dale,” Chase states. “I believe in you.” Dale gives him the thumbs up before leaving with Randy, helmet in hand. Mariela then closes the door and flops down on the couch beside him, turning on the race.
“I guess we can sit here and watch this together to learn how fate goes,” she comments as Chase curls up in the corner, fear starting to enter more and more based on what he had heard about Mariela’s past stunts with Dale and Marie.
“Oh don’t worry. I won’t touch you. Like he said, you’re not involved. There’s only one dear that really matters to me at the end of the day, and she has a good view of what’s going on as well.” Chase knew who Mariela met immediately in the form of Marie, however her words didn’t give him any comfort. He just wanted to get out there as soon as possible.
He then looked up at the monitor when he saw Dale and Randy walk towards the car, Dale slipping into the car without being noticed by anybody as Randy did the belts up. Chase shook his head in disbelief as he was certain that someone – anyone – would’ve noticed.
Chapter 57: Caught in the Act
The entire time he watched the person dressed in the NAPA Suit walk across the pit road with the helmet securely on, till the time that he watched them climb in the car and get belted in, Steve LeTarte’s eyes never left the subject. There was something that was odd and different. Something that he noticed immediately. How could nobody else had noticed it? How could it had slipped by without a word? He had noticed it. Why hadn’t someone else on the team?
Though while noticing it, he didn’t say a word – out of fear. He knew that if Dale was there, that meant that Mariela had close hands on Marie and Chase. Based on what he had learned so far in the actions of Marie’s deranged sister, he wasn’t about to test the waters. He just hoped that Dale knew what he was getting into by getting in the car, and hoped that he could unravel the second half of the puzzle in the quickest way possible. It was nice to know that Dale was alright, though.
With his new found knowledge, Steve doesn’t let it go to waste as he knew that he had to tell certain people the truth. He figured if these certain people knew, they could help make the rest of the puzzle easier. Steve went directly up to the pit box, climbing the steps and sitting beside Jason, as he had planned to anyway.
“I got something to tell you and don’t say anything on the radio yet about it,” Steve starts as Jason looks over at him confused.
“That Chase is nervous?” Jason questions and Steve shakes his head no. He knew that was the least of their worries now.
“That’s not Chase in the car.” Jason then looks at him surprised, though immediately puts the pieces together as he sits back against his seat.
“Dale is in the car….but why?” Steve shrugs his shoulders as he wasn’t sure yet.
“I don’t know why Mariela wants him in the car, but I know that he’s in the car. I also know for certain now that Randy is our snitch, and that the wicked witch has Marie and Chase. For that reason, just keep going about the day as normal in doing pit stops and adjustments. I’ll unravel the rest of the puzzle.”
“Got it. Thanks for the heads-up.”
“I was surprised that nobody else noticed.” Steve then climbs down the steps, set to find the second person that he knew needed to know the truth.
He was honestly afraid to tell this person, based on the worry that they’d have immediately in hearing these words. However, as a parent, he knew that it was better to tell them the truth than to keep it a secret. Plus, having them on his side in trying to find Marie and Chase could be helpful.
“I got something to tell you,” he says as he walks up behind Cindy and Bill on pit road. Cindy was standing there with camera in hand set to take photos, while Bill had a radio on, set to go back to the transporter and stand up top watching, as he normally would. “Chase isn’t in the car. Dale is and I can guarantee you that by what I saw.” The pair look at him as if he is crazy.
“Are you 100% certain?” Bill questions and Steve slowly shakes his head yes.
“Then where’s Chase? What’s going on?” Steve shrugs his shoulders, as he honestly didn’t have the answers at the current time.
“From what I’m thinking, Mariela wanted him in the car for some reason and made Randy play the classic switcheroo.” Bill immediately wraps his arms around his wife as he keeps his eyes on Steve.
“So you’re saying that right now Mariela has Chase and Marie?” Steve slowly shakes his head yes as Cindy shakes her head in disbelief.
“No…no…Stevie….you can’t be telling me the truth,” she starts as she turns her camera on, going through some of the photos that she had just shot. Though immediately upon watching the driver climb in and how the suit fit, it became reality right in their face.
“Cindy, you need to relax as it’s going to work out,” Bill tells her calmly, continuing to keep his eyes on Steve. “What are we going to do?”
“Find him! We need to find him, Bill. Where the hell is he?” Steve takes a deep breath, trying to remain calm.
“I don’t know where he is, Cindy,” Steve tells her. “I can only suggest that you both start checking any spot that you can think of – get a hold of Regan and see if he can think of something. I’m going to get a hold of an officer and tell him what’s going on, and then I’m going to get Randy to tell me the damn truth.”
“What do we do if we find them?” Bill wonders. “Get security?” Steve shakes his head yes.
“And listen, Cindy, he’s going to be fine. If Dale is in the car, there’s something fishy about the whole dea-”
“She wants him to go out and win the race,” Cindy interrupts Steve’s thoughts, causing both men to look at her confused. “She wants him to win the race. That’s the only reason that she’d put him in that car, and depending how he does probably will affect the future for everybody involved. So in other words, we’ve got 200 laps to find Marie and Chase.”
“It’s going to work out,” Steve tells her once again before heading off down pit road in search of the next person to talk to.
The first security officer he found, he explained the situation so that way they understood. The officer radioed the details through the system, before following Steve down pit road back towards the 88 pit.
Steve walks into the pit, noticing the person that he wants to speak with immediately, as he walks up behind them as they analyze their computer screen.
“So you figured it out, huh?” Randy questions as he turns away from the computer screen to face Steve.
“I know that he’s in the car and I know that you’re the snitch,” Steve answers. “I have two questions for you and I suggest you answer them immediately. Where are Marie and Chase? What the hell plan is Mariela thinking?”
“I don’t know the plan nor their location. I just did as I was instructed to do by her.”
“You had to take Chase to some location to meet up with Dale, before returning. Can I have that location?” Randy just laughs as he turns back to the computer screen, which no doubt doesn’t sit well with Steve. Steve then grabs the engineer by his shoulder, pulling him back and pushing him up against the pit cart, catching the attention of the rest of the team.
“I’m not giving you any information, LeTarte. I’m not allowed to tell you anything. Now can you get your paws off of me? I have a job to do. Can’t you see that?”
“The only job that you have is rotting in hell.” Steve then lets him go as the officer steps in, placing Randy in handcuffs before hauling him away. As Steve watched the pair head down pit road, he could only hope that the officer got the details out of Randy.
Though just in case he didn’t, Steve began his walk towards the Daytona infield, hoping to unravel something himself. He also hoped that possibly Bill and Cindy did, as well.
“Is it true that Dale is in the car?” Steve hears a voice, catching him off-guard.
“Aren’t you supposed to be on bed rest and not moving an inch out of your motorhome?” Steve questions as he looks towards Regan.
“I escaped Megan’s hold when I heard that Dale was in the car. Now, is it true?” Steve shakes his head yes as Regan lets out a long sigh. “So that means that Mariela has Chase. Great, that’s my fault. I should’ve been the lined back-up driver. I should’ve been standing there. I could’ve done something to stop it. I could’ve possibly caught everything in the act!”
“Regan, stop beating yourself up as I’m sure if there was an option, Chase would’ve utilized it.”
“Yeah…..I guess. It’s still not fair. He’s only 18. He doesn’t deserve this! How is this fa-”
“Are you going to keep blubbering or are you going to help me find him?”
“I got no choice but to help now. I feel terrible as it is.” The pair then head off as Steve keeps in constant communication with Bill where he and Cindy is, and in communication with Jason about how the race is going.
Chapter 58: 50 to go….
“How many more laps?” Dale asks under caution for Denny Hamlin blowing a motor as Jason checks the scoring monitor.
“52. It’ll be 50 when they put the green back out boss,” Jason answers.
“10-4. What have I said about calling me boss?” Jason rolls his eyes as he sits back.
“Not supposed to. Sorry. I’m just used to that from being car chief with Stevie.”
“I’m not mad. You’re done a good job. This car is really fast and whatever you and Regan hit on yesterday was right.”
“Glad that it’s handling so well for you. Now let’s get up there and get that lead. This is the 500 and you’ve got 50 laps!”
“Dude – your cheerleading isn’t as good as Stevie,” TJ Majors chimes in on the conversation from the spotter stand.
“It’s not bad though,” Dale comments. “It got me pumped up a bit and he’s right – it’s now or never. We can do this.”
“I believe in you and I know this team believes in you,” Jason says, checking to see that they’d line up in 21st for the restart. They had been taking a conservative approach all race, taking care of the car since they had to start from the rear due to an engine change following Saturday’s practice. Now with 50 laps to go, it was time to make the moves that counted and get to the front.
Jason hadn’t brought up the reason for Dale being in the car, nor had he wanted to even discuss it. The details made sense to him in his mind after talking with Steve – Mariela had set it up, and there was probably a must-win scenario over his head. With that said, Jason’s focus for the next 50 laps was going to be on that win. He didn’t want to think about the other possibilities at hand.
He had tried to convince himself to ask how Dale was feeling, but didn’t want to touch that topic either. If there was something over his head, emotions would be on a high. Beyond that, the obvious answer would be that he is sore. Everybody knew that so why bother stating it? It was just better to keep business as usual and hope somehow, someway, things worked out.
Sitting up in the seat, he was set to watch the drama unfold as the green flag waved for the restart.
“This is going to be interesting,” Mariela comments from her perch as she glances over at Chase.
“He can still do it,” Chase says as he knew there was enough time for Dale to get to the front.
“You sound so very confident, but we all know that you’re just a sweet little boy who is naïve of reality and admiring a hero.” Chase looks over at her as if she’s crazy.
“I’d have you know that it’s more like watching my boss and knowing how much that he has helped me and what he has done in his career to date. Beyond that, I’m not a sweet little boy as incase you forgot, I’m 18.”
“16, 17, 18, 19…..you’re still in your teens and that means sweet little boy.” Chase rolls his eyes as he was just hoping that he’d find his escape from her soon. So far, things hadn’t been that terrible as she had behaved in keeping her hands away from him. She hadn’t even bothered to tie him up or anything, but yet just keeping an eye on him. It gave Chase some comfort, though also had him nervous of what was to come and where Marie was. “What was that?” Chase then looks around confused as he watches Mariela stand up and glance out the window.
“I didn’t hear anything…” In truth, he had heard the voices outside, though wasn’t sure who they belonged to. Had they found him?
“Oh bullshit! You wish that’s how I treat it!” She then grabs him by a piece of his hair to pull him over to her and force him to look out the window. “Recognize those people?” A smile came to be on Chase’s inside as he certainly recognized the group immediately – Steve LeTarte, Regan Smith and his parents.
“No….no clue who they are. Do you know who they are?” He wasn’t about to give in that it was them in fear that she’d pull some drastic measure in knowing that there was a chance of her being caught soon.
“Don’t play dumb with me.”
“I honestly don’t….” She then gives him a slap across the cheek, cutting off his words.
“I know one of those people is Steve LeTarte, sweetheart, so why don’t you just spill who the other three are?” Chase takes a nervous deep breath as he quickly evaluated his own options.
“Regan Smith and my parents – Bill and Cindy – are the other two. Happy?” Mariela just shakes her head in disgust as they both hear doors open, knowing that the group is coming closer. No doubt someone had given away Chase’s location – and Mariela had a good idea of who to blame.
“Chase?” A female voice calls out as Mariela keeps her eyes on Chase.
“That’d be my mother,” Chase assures her. “Ever wondered what happens when you kidnap someone’s baby?”
“Chase?” Chase just smirks at Mariela, knowing that his captive time was coming to an end in a matter of moments.
“I’m in here, Mom! Watch your step as Mariela is here!” Chase then darts towards the door, set to open it for the group to enter – when a hand grabs his hand and thrusts him back against the couch. “Shit!”
“Stevie! Bill! Come quick!”
“Them being here is actually going to make things worse on you sweetheart,” Mariela says in a teasing tone as she inches closer to him.
“You got that backwards, dear,” Chase comments as he slowly stands up, feeling the pain throughout his body. “I think it’s time that revenge comes your….” Chase feels his voice caught his throat as he notices Mariela’s hand go in her pocket, pulling a knife slowly out.
“You were saying?” Chase backs out away slightly, putting a bit of distance between himself and Mariela as he hopes that the door can be busted open in a hurry.
“That I am ready to listen to what you have to say.”
“That’s more lik-”
“Help!! Someone! Mom! Dad! Steve! Regan!” Panic instantly started to come over Chase as he saw the tip of the knife pointed in his direction. His breathing picking up, eyes locked on the knife, there was only one end that he could see based on the position that she had put him in. “Get in here now!” Stuck in his own panic, Mariela took advantage of the moment, grabbing him and pulling him close to her as the door busted open with the mad foursome standing there. she brought the knife to neck level as Chase closed his eyes, predicting pain coming in his future as his breaths got even quicker.
“Okay….everybody….remain….calm…” Bill tells the group as he holds them behind him as he focuses his eyes on Mariela and his son. “You must be Mariela, I assume, right?” Mariela slowly shakes her head yes. “That’s nice. I’m Bill, his father. Listen, I know that you have some crazy strange plan with Dale and Marie, so how about you just let Chase go and be done with what you have going on here?”
“That cannot happen sir as your son is now part of this mess,” Mariela informs them as Regan takes a couple steps out from behind Bill and closer to the pair.
“You’ve got Dale in the car and you have Marie hidden somewhere – why do you need Chase now?” Regan wonders as he and Bill trade glances, thinking what to do. Regan knew that the officers were on their way here, per the phone call made before entry, however wondered whether they’d make it in time.
“Please……let…..me….go…,” Chase slowly lets out as he tries to keep himself calm in her grasp, though feeling every breath come quicker than the previous.
“If you let the kid go, we’ll let you go as well without doing anything to stop you,” Steve adds as he keeps his arms wrapped around Cindy, trying to give her comfort. “You just have to let him go before the authorities get here.”
“Stay calm kid,” Regan coaches as he reaches for Chase’s hand, grabbing a firm hold on it.
“They’ll be here soon so I think you should take our suggestion,” Steve continues his pleading.
“None of us will stand in your way as we just want to see Chase make it out of this, alive,” Bill adds.
“Please…” Chase begs once again as he feels the grasp that Mariela has on him tighten.
“Chase…” Steve states calmly as he notices Chase’s panic grow with Mariela’s tighter grasp.
“Please let him go,” Bill begins his side of the begging. Regan goes to say something, though feels vomit coming up his throat, then flying out of his mouth, hitting both Mariela and Chase.
“Yuck!” Mariela yells, not releasing her grasp at all as she holds Chase as tight as she can, while keeping the knife at just about skin touch.
“Regan?” Bill asks as Regan shrugs his shoulders.
“Sorry – I’ve been sick all weekend,” he answers. “I feel much better now.”
“Let him go!” They then hear the voice of a police officer behind them as he makes his way through the group and up to Mariela. “Ma’am, please let the young man go.”
“Why don’t you go to hell?” Mariela offers as the officer draws his gun at her.
“Ma’am, please don’t force us to do something that we’ll both regret.”
“You won’t dare shoot that while I have him.”
“Let…me…go….” Chase says as he tries to focus on taking deep breaths. “Can’t….breathe…”
“Let him go!” The officer yells.
“Can’t…” Everything then seems to freeze as a bullet goes off, coming through the back window and directly into Mariela’s back, forcing her down. As she goes to fall, Chase pushes her arm out of the way, and falls forward the other direction, into Steve’s arms.
“I got you kid,” Steve says as they both sit on the floor together, Chase taking a glance back to see Mariela lying dead on the floor behind him.
“I….couldn’t….breathe,” Chase lets out slowly as Steve rubs his back.
“You’re going to be okay.” Cindy then kneels down to their level, immediately wrapping both arms around Chase and holding him close as she kisses his cheek. “Everything is going to be okay.”
“We’ve got her. She’s fine. She’s just getting checked out at the care center and then going to Dale’s pit box for the end of the race.” Chase then lets out a sigh as he buries his head in his mom’s neck, feeling his own nerves unravel. “You’re going to be okay, Chase.” Steve then stands up, motioning for Bill to come over as he heads towards the door. “I’m going to tell the team that things are okay.”
“I’ve got him,” Cindy assures Steve before Steve leaves. “I’ve got you and I’m not letting you go.”
“I don’t want you to let me go,” Chase tells his mom as he sits there, panic still set in based on what happen.
“Chase?” Bill questions as he turns to them after finishing talking to the officer, seeing Chase trying to calm down while clinging to Cindy.
“We’re going to take him over to the care center and get him checked out,” the officer states, noticing the same thing.
The group then makes their way over to the care center and once in a room, the doctor instructs Chase to wear an oxygen mask to get his breathing back to normal after everything that he had been through as they check him over. The entire time, though, all that Chase can focus his mind on is the panic and fear that went through his mind, forcing his fingers to keep curled around his mother’s hand the entire time.
Chapter 59: Daytona 500 Victory?
Steve climbs the steps of the pit box, sitting behind Jason and Marie, as Marie does a quick glance back at him.
“Everything okay?” She asks and Steve shakes his head yes.
“Mariela is dead,” Steve states bluntly, catching the attention of Jason. “Beyond that, Chase is okay. Slight panic attack, stuck in her strangle hold for a bit – but he’ll be okay.” Marie lets out a sigh of relief as she sits back in the seat. “Regan puked on Mariela, too, which was good personal satisfaction. He said he felt better afterwards.” Marie chuckles slightly at the thought as she checks her text messages once again.
“Megan is going to bring Alyssa over when I say too. I haven’t given her the okay yet because I don’t know how Dale will be feeling once this is over.”
“Did you te-” Marie knew where Steve was going with the question. She had killed the worry that filled her fiancé’s heart immediately.
“Jason told him under the caution with 20 to go. Now sssh!” Steve shakes his head in agreement as he checks the monitor seeing that it’s five laps to go. Dale had done well in getting himself in position, having moved up to the fifth spot. Given the strength of the car and how he was climbing through the field, their chances looked solid. Plus, it’s Daytona – anything is possible, right?
Four to go – moved up a couple more spots.
Three to go – set to make the move.
Two to go – running solidly in third.
Final lap – moved up to the runner-up spot as they head towards turn one, on Jimmie’s bumper. The entire team watches in anticipation down the backstretch, waiting for the move. However, Dale doesn’t make the move, keeping himself tucked behind Johnson. He repeats the process through turns three and four, allowing the pair to draw a small gap between themselves and the rest of the field.
Coming down to the tri-oval, the move of the hour is made as Dale tucks out of line, going to the outside with the run. At the start-finish line, no doubt it’s one of the closest finishes ever as everyone looks at each other in disbelief, trying to see which of the Hendrick Motorsports teammates won.
“Scoring monitor?” Spotter TJ Majors asks, not sure from his vantage point, though certain that he saw the nose of the 88 car out front.
“Woohooo!” Steve lets out a scream as he is the first look at the scoring monitor, knowing that the boys had done it again. They had won the Daytona 500. “Go ahead Jason….” Jason smiles as he looks back at Steve and then cues the radio.
“You’re looking at a three-time Daytona 500 Champion baby!” Jason screams on the radio. “Scoring monitor says you got it and NASCAR just released the official call!”
“Wooohooo Way to go everybody!” Dale congratulates the team on the radio as Jason locks eyes with Steve.
“I’m proud of you,” Steve tells him. “I told you that you could do this and you could lead this team to destiny. Have fun this year and don’t forget – I’m watching you.” Steve then gives Jason a pat on the back before heading down the steps of the pit box. As he high-fived the guys on the team, he knew that they’d be fine with the weeks to come in Jason’s hands. He could lead the team to the next level that they needed to be at without failure.
“Way to go Dale!” Jason yells as he puts the radio set back on. “Helluva move that last lap! Helluva drive all race long! You did a spectacular job!”
“I can’t believe that you did that,” TJ comments from his vantage point. “I thought you were crazy for doing this today. Way to go! Way to go! Now, take care of yourself and those girls of yours.”
“It’s why I did what I did today,” Dale says.
“Megan has Alyssa, Marie is up here with me ready for her victory lane kiss and Chase is going to be okay,” Jason reveals on the radio, knowing that the questions had to be on Dale’s mind to ask.
“10-4.” Hearing those words and affirmation that everything was okay was a great feeling. It was better than perhaps winning the race as what mattered at the end of the day was that he could hold both of his girls close, and that Chase made it out fine. Of course, Marie had the surprise of the day to tell him in the fact that Mariela was dead. “I’ll see you in victory lane. Thanks for everything, everybody.”
“10-4. I can’t wait to see that smiling face of yours.”
“I can’t believe this…” Marie comments as she stands in victory lane waiting, not taking her eyes off the car as she watches it come towards the entrance to victory lane. “I can’t believe we’re standing in Daytona victory lane again.”
“I can believe it…” Jason lets out as he keeps a close eye was well. He had it planned that he was going to let Marie be the first person to get to him as the pair hadn’t seen each other since earlier in the week.
“I can’t…..after….everything. Can you believe that this will be the first time that I’ve seen him since Wednesday?” Jason shakes his head no, still in disbelief that Mariela was able to keep Dale hidden and out of sight till she chose. He was also in disbelief in how she had planned getting him in the car, but that was all forgotten now. All that mattered was that Dale was okay, Marie was okay, Alyssa was okay, Chase was okay and the wicked witch was dead.
“Go….” Jason gives Marie a slight shove, pushing her towards the car as Dale stops in victory lane. Marie didn’t need to be told though, as her feet were carrying her already over, arms reaching in the car and wrapping Dale in a tight hug, kissing his lips.
“I love you. I missed you so much.”
“I love you too,” Dale replies simply as the pair lock eyes together.
“I missed you so much. I was scared that I wouldn’t see you again.”
“I’m just glad that you’re back in my arms.”
“God I love you so much.” Marie then kisses his lips once again as Jason and the Hendrick PR team work at keeping all the media patient, knowing that the couple needed this time together after their separation period. “It’s over, by the way. The wicked witch is dead. If nobody was around, I’d be doing the dance from Wizard of Oz. It’s over –truthfully this time.”
“Best news…ever….” Marie then kisses his lips again, not wanting to lose touch of them as the pair continue to look at each other in the eyes as a third person joins their small party.
“Glad to see that you’re both okay,” Rick says as the pair smile. “Don’t worry about making the world wait – you both deserve this together.”
“Perhaps we’ll save the affection for later and let the world in on our celebration,” Marie comments as Dale keeps his eyes on her.
“I’m sure there’s also a little girl that badly wants to see her parents later, too. Can’t wait all day here, can we?” The pair shake their head no as Marie backs away.
“Climb out superstar….or should I say, Daytona 500 Champion baby!” Both her and Rick back up, giving Dale the space that he needs. He then climbs out of the car, standing up on the edge and raising his fists in the air as the confetti goes off while screams erupt through the entire victory lane.
Hopping off the car, he does the standard victory lane interview – obviously with some bonus questions added with the media finding out details about everything that had happened over the past week. As he finishes the interview, he feels arms instantly wrap around him, knowing exactly who it is immediately.
“Great job on the car,” Dale says as he turns to face Jason. “You did a spectacular job this week despite everything that was thrown your way. I look forward to working with you all year.”
“Championship?” Jason offers as Dale shakes his head yes.
“We can do it.” Jason’s smile fades as he keeps his eyes on Dale, knowing that everybody has avoided the question that is certainly on everyone’s mind, though afraid to ruin the moment.
“How are you feeling, honestly?” Dale lets out a sigh as he leans back against the car.
“It was tough. It was tough. I’m sore, without a doubt. My back is sore and now I understand why the doctors said on Monday that racing would be a bad idea. I’m wore out. I’m tired, perhaps even a little dehydrated. But I’m going to be fine, Jason. I’m going to be fine and I’ve got my girls to take care of me so that’s all that matters.” Dale then wraps an arm around Marie and pulls her back close to him. “Do you know how spoiled I am to have someone as awesome as this girl right here?”
“Hey, I heard that she was a Queen.”
“She’s my Queen.”
“Well, how about a princess to make the family complete?” They hear as Megan walks closer, holding Alyssa’s hand.
“Daddy!!” Alyssa screams as she runs over, wrapping both arms around Dale. “Mommy!” She then turns to her mom and does the same thing. “You won!” Dale then leans down to her level.
“Of course I won – because I knew there was a special girl who needed a win to make her feel better,” Dale tells her as he pulls Alyssa close and hugs her tightly, not wanting to let go. “I love you, Alyssa. I love you so much.” He then kisses her cheek before standing back up.
“Daddy, I miss you.” Alyssa’s words catch Dale off-guard as he looks back down at her, feeling the emotions all there once again.
“I missed you too, however I promise that things are never going to go wrong again.”
“Daddy, you ‘romise before. You lied.” Marie goes to say something, though Dale stops her.
“Let me handle this, please.” Marie shakes her head as she watches Dale pick up Alyssa with as mile on his face. “Daddy did lie, didn’t he?” Alyssa shakes her head yes. “Sometimes, certain promises are hard to keep. Daddy tries to keep every promise that he makes for you, but sometimes, the odd promise goes wrong. This time – I know I can keep my promise.” She then looks at him confused.
“Why daddy?” he then smiles as he glances towards Marie.
“Because a certain Mariela is gone. As they say in the Wizard of Oz….”
“Ding dong the witch is dead!” Marie and Jason chant together, bringing forth a smile on Alyssa’s face.
“Now, what do you say you help daddy with celebrating?” Dale offers before carrying her up to the stage.
“Are you okay?” Jason asks as he looks over at Marie, causing her to look back at him confused. “I know everything is great with the win and everybody being okay. But….Mariela was your sister…..There’s got to be some emotions there.” Marie takes a deep breath.
“There is, Jason. I loved her as we grew up together having the time of our lives as twins. However, she turned crazy and sometimes, certain things need to be done. I look back and feel sadness and even sometimes regret on killing my father. I will probably be the same with Mariela. However, I know that I can’t change the circumstance because it had to be done. It had to be done to protect my family.” She then walks away and heads up on stage with Dale and Alyssa.
I couldn’t have him not win after everything 😉 This story isn’t done yet, I can promise you that. We’ll touch on Chase’s emotions in the next chapter, and then we still got to tell a certain daughter that she’s a princess.
Chapter 60: Emotions
“Aren’t you glad to be home?” Dale asks as he looks over at Marie while getting Alyssa out of the car.
“I’m glad that NASCAR let you go for go the media tour,” Marie comments as Dale shakes his head in agreement. “I could’ve gotten her out of the car, you know? You don’t need to be a total suck.”
“I’ve missed you both so give me my time please.” Dale then picks Alyssa up, letting her lay her head on his shoulder as she is asleep. “Plus, I’m fine. You don’t need to baby me. I can take care of myself like a big boy.”
“I know – I just worry about you.” They then head towards the house together, Alyssa in hand.
There was no doubt that Dale was sore and tired. It had been a long day in running all 500 miles with his back being sore. The stab wound from the prior week and the surgery had taken it’s toll, but luckily he had made it out on the more positive scale. However, that didn’t mean that he wasn’t in pain at that moment as there was no lie that his back was pretty sore. It was why he was extra glad that NASCAR told him to forget about the post-Daytona 500 victory media tour due to everything that happened. He knew that having some days to rest up would be great.
Though beyond the simple pain, there was also physical exhaustion. He hadn’t gotten much rest under Mariela’s captivity and he could feel it in the final laps that his body was just purely exhausted. It was why post-race, he had downed a couple bottles of water, and stopped for food before flying home.
Being home was perhaps the best cure, though, as there was a special feeling in being back home. Being there with the whole family and knowing that their own personal hell was over was refreshing and relaxing. It was great to know that life would return to normal in the days to follow.
“Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr., should you be carrying your daughter right now?” They hear as they walk through the door and Marie shakes her head, knowing that voice immediately. “You should be taking it easy and you know that mister.”
“It just feels so nice to be home,” Marie comments as Dale laughs. “It wouldn’t be the same without such a comment.”
“Well?” The voice reins again as Dale walks over and immediately pulls his mom into a hug.
“It’s nice to see you,” Dale tells her before kissing her cheek. “Considering I just drove a racecar, I don’t think I need to worry about carrying Alyssa.”
“You should be lying on your ass right now resting after what you’ve been through. Don’t you know that you should take care of yourself?”
“Mom, easy on him…” Kelley comments as she walks over and gives Dale a hug, before carefully slipping Alyssa out of his arms into hers. “Relax. I’ll take her up and tuck her into bed.”
“He should follow you up and go to bed himself,” Brenda says as Kelley looks over at her mom.
“Lay off of him as I’m sure he’s fine and…” Kelley then looks back at her brother. “…will take care of himself.” Kelley then turns and heads up the stairs with Alyssa, set to put her to bed.
“I know I’m being a pain, but can I have another hug?” Dale then chuckles and gives her another hug. Though he tries to pull back, she keeps him held there in her arms.
“Mom…” He starts.
“I’m so glad that you’re okay,” Brenda starts. “I was really worried about you the whole time. I’m glad that you’re okay and I can hold you and yell at you and kiss you.” She then kisses his cheek before pulling back from the hug.
“I’m sorry I worried you as much as I did and regardless, I’m glad to see you, even if you’re complaining. Thanks for caring.” He then walks towards the door before glancing back. “I’m going to see how Chase is. I’ll be back after.”
“That’s fine,” Marie comments as she flops down on the couch. “I’ll be here waiting for you.”
“I promise I won’t keep you waiting long or disappear from you ever….again…,” Dale replies before heading out, closing the door behind him.
He then makes his way over the lake house, knowing that Chase was there. Chase had moved on the property last year after graduating high school and was staying there while driving for JR Motorsports. It was a pretty good arrangement as Chase was close to the shop and behaved so it brought no complaints. It also gave Bill and Cindy some comfort when Chase moved away from home that he would have Dale and Kelley close if he needed anything.
He had talked to Bill earlier, hearing about how Chase was feeling. He heard about what had happened with Mariela through Steve and heard about how the emotions for Chase were all over place. He could understand that, based on his own feelings on what had happened. He couldn’t imagine what could be going through Chase’s mind at his age.
Letting out a sigh, he walks up to the door of the lake house. He wanted to check on Chase for himself to see, and make sure that things were squared away between them. In every other thought, Dale blamed himself for it. It was his fault that Mariela had kidnapped him because Mariela had wanted Dale in the car. It was his fault that nothing was done to stop it as Dale knew about it before anybody else. Why hadn’t he done something or warned someone, somehow?
Dale snaps out of his thoughts as he sees the door open with Bill standing there. Bill and Cindy had flown back with Chase, wanting to be there with him for the time being after what had happened.
“Hey,” Bill says as Dale clears his throat.
“Hey,” Dale starts. “I just came by to see how Chase was doing.”
“Come in.” Dale then comes in the house as Bill closes the door behind him. “He’s still pretty upset about it, honestly. He hasn’t left Cindy’s side since we left Daytona as he doesn’t want her to go anywhere. She got up about two hours ago to go to the bathroom – and he only let her since I stayed with him. He hates the thought right now of being alone. Beyond that, he’s tired and he should honestly get some sleep. He’s tried to go to sleep a couple of times, but keeps waking up about 20, 30 minutes later, crying because of some flashback or something happening because of what happened.” Dale shakes his head in disbelief, looking down at the ground as the guilt of what happens increases more.
“I’m sorry, Bill. I should’ve done something to stop her from getting her hands on him.”
“Dale, I’m not mad at you because I know that you would’ve done something if you could’ve. Don’t put the blame for what happened on your shoulders. It’s not your fault as it was all Mariela’s doing and plan. You couldn’t change what happened, no matter what.” Bill then pulls Dale into a hug as they stand in the hallway together. “Beyond that, I know Chase doesn’t blame you either. He was worried about you and Marie, but when I told him that you were both fine, it helped. Everything is going to be fine. He’ll get through it and you’ll get through your half of the emotions, too. Through it all, though, know that none of this – anything that has happened the last two months – is not your fault. It’s not Marie’s, it’s not yours, it’s not Chase’s – it was Mariela’s fault for these sick, psychotic thoughts that she had going on. Just be glad that everybody is okay and can get through this together.” Dale then looks up at Bill, feeling a couple tears in his eyes as the emotions of the past two months surface on his mind.
“So you’re not ma-”
“I’m not mad, Cindy isn’t mad nor is Chase. It wasn’t your fault.” Bill then lets him go as he points into the living room as Dale peaks in, seeing Chase lying on the couch in his mom’s arms. “Cindy said that when he moved away, she’d never get to hold or cuddle her baby boy again. I told her after today that we were all right when we said that he’d always need his momma.”
“I just hate that he has to go through this. It’s not fair.”
“Life sometimes isn’t fair. We’ve learned that the hard way, haven’t we?” Dale shakes his head yes.
“Everybody keeps saying that he’s going to be okay. I hope they’re right. I….I just worry about him. It isn’t fair!”
“Complaining about it isn’t going to make it better, either.”
“It gets it off my chest.”
“Dale?” They hear as Dale and Bill peak into the room more, seeing a pair of eyes looking at them. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“I came over to see how you were,” Dale comments. “I didn’t want to bother you if you were sleeping.”
“Cindy…” Bill calls as he motions for Cindy to come over to him. He knew that it’d be best to leave the boys to talk between each other as it may help things.
“Go Cindy. I’ve got him.” Cindy then slowly stands up and heads out of the room with Bill as Dale sits down on the couch beside Chase.
“Congratulations on the win,” Chase starts off the conversation after a couple minutes of silence. Neither of them knew which way to take the conversation. Dale wanted to know from Chase himself how he was feeling and what was going through the young man’s mind, but didn’t want to intrude. Chase wanted to know how Dale was feeling and whether he was truly okay, but also didn’t want to bring it up.
“Thanks,” Dale comments. “It wasn’t easy at all, but got the right run at the right time.”
“I saw the finish – I still can’t believe how close and Johnson were.”
“Neither could I.” The pair felt at ease in talking about racing, but the nerves were there as both walked towards the unknowns at hand. “Chase, listen, I’m sorry for what happened.”
“It’s not your fault. You weren’t the one that tried to kill me. You weren’t the person that thought it’d be great idea to strangle me.”
“I left you wi-”
“You didn’t do it by choice; you did it because she forced you. I’m mad at you for what happened. I can’t blame you for what happened.”
“I still feel terrible. I should’ve said something to her when she had Randy kidnap you. I should’ve gotten her to let you go free somewhere while she fulfilled the rest of her plan for me.”
“When Randy told me to follow him, I had no clue what was going to happen. He showed me a picture of you kidnapped and of Marie kidnapped. I thought I was being straight up kidnapped as if they were going on a kidnapping party. I had no clue that you were going to drive. I had no clue what was going to happen. I went to say something to Jason when Randy told me but he stopped me – he said that he’d make sure you were dead. I should’ve said something. Maybe I could’ve stopped the whole day’s events.”
“You can’t play the what if game, Chase. It’ll drive you nuts. It’s driving me nuts thinking what I could’ve done to not have that happen to you.” Chase then takes a deep breath as he looks down at the floor, multiple thoughts swirling through his mind in regards to the past 24 hours.
“Dale, can I ask you something?” Dale then looks over at Chase, intrigued by the question.
“What is it?” Dale keeps his eyes on Chase as he notices a couple tears fall down his cheeks, slipping onto the carpet below.
“Does it get easier over time?” Chase then takes a deep breath, trying to keep the tears in as he lies back against the couch. Given what Dale had gone through the previous couple of months with the plane incident and the incident with Marie’s father, Chase figured that Dale would know from experience in how the days that followed would play out. “Do the memories start to fade and become less apparent?” Dale takes a deep breath, thinking back to how he has dealt with things since the plane incident.
“You never forget what happened as it’s with you everyday moving forward for the rest of your life. You just learn ways to cope with the memories and move forward with your life.” Dale knew it was a touchy subject, given the fact that the emotions were there still for him. There were nights where he wakes up in a cold sweat, relieving the events that happened on the plane, sometimes with a different ending. Even in Daytona, he had nights that he woke up, tears crawling down his face, as his mind flash backed to what happened in Marie’s country of Pitronia with her father.
“How have you learned to deal with them?”
“I still don’t know the perfect answer, honestly.” Chase takes a deep breath, debating how much detail he wanted to say. It was soothing to talk about with Dale as it gave him some comfort.
“Every time I close my eyes, I keep picturing her standing there before me as I am laying by the couch below her after she pushed me.”
“I keep picturing her walking off the plane with the button to strike the bomb off in hand, knowing that my daughter is tied up just below me. I’ve also pictured, over and over, the look on her father’s face, a look of pure evil, when he held the bottle that he wanted to drink.”
“When does it become easier to move on with your life and go about it as if nothing happened?” Dale shrugs his shoulders.
“For me, I don’t think I’m going to go back to that life like it was before. I think from now on, I’m going to keep looking over my shoulder, scared someone is there. I’m going to walk on to planes thinking that I’m walking into a trap.” Chase lets out a sigh as he thinks it over, debating how things would change for him moving forward.
“I just want to be able to close my eyes and not think about her or what happened.”
“It’s hard at first because it’s fresh in your mind, but I will tell you that it does get easier with each passing day as you get more comfortable once again.” Dale then takes a deep breath, remembering how he had made his nightmares at least a little easier to deal with, knowing that Chase deserved the advice to move forward. “Whether then just close your eyes and go to sleep, try to remind yourself before you go to sleep that you’re safe and you have people around you that love you. Remind yourself that she’s gone forever. Remind yourself that you’ve got your parents, I, Kelley – everybody who would anything for you. Assure yourself of how safe you are and it makes it a little easier. It doesn’t cure it as there’s no magical cure for what you’ve been through. However, it makes it easier and with each day as you move beyond what happened, you’ll be able to sleep without thinking about it.”
“I’ll try to remember that. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome and Chase, it’s going to work out. We’re both going to get through this together.” Dale then pulls Chase close to him as a smile forms on Chase’s face, perhaps the first smile that had found his face since his escape. “Alright, now let’s forget about that for a while. Let’s get that off your mind as you don’t want to think about that. I heard that you had a great Daytona Speedweeks in winning the Nationwide Series race. Tell me how that went because I am not pleased at all that I missed it.”