By: Ariel Tachna

Chapter 1

“PUTAIN de merde, qu’est-ce vous faites? Vous ne pouvez pas lire les indications que vous avez écrites vous-même?”

Daniel Leroux glared at his co-driver in frustration as they finally came to a stop. He’d lost count of how many times the car flipped this time, but this was not the first time his co-driver’s errors had led to them rolling and being eliminated from a race. He could just see his rank falling as once again a rally ended with no points in his score column.

The crowd rushed over to make sure they were unhurt. Daniel summoned a smile as he pulled himself from the car to the cheers of the fans. Finland was a hard course, and he wasn’t the first driver to wipe out on this turn, nor would he be the last, he was sure, but his co-driver telling him the road curved left instead of right was more than a miscalculation. It was the kind of gross error that got people killed. He didn’t plan on being one of them. When they got back to the hotel where they were staying for the week, Daniel intended to talk to the team manager. He was already out of contention for this season. Even if they won every remaining rally, they couldn’t catch the leader, and they’d have to come in third or above in every remaining race to end up in the top five. With a co-driver he could trust, he might have done it. With the idiot climbing out of the car on the other side as co-driver, he’d be lucky to be alive still at the end of the season.

The spectators helped push the car back onto the road, allowing Daniel to continue down the course, but he didn’t push the time. He could hear from the sounds coming from the engine that they wouldn’t make it at high speeds. He’d get off the course so it was clear for the next driver and then withdraw from the rest of the race.

“I’M SORRY, Jean-Paul,” Daniel said, tossing his helmet and gloves on the table as he turned to face the team manager. “I can’t work with him anymore. I’ve tried and tried. Watch the onboard if you don’t believe me. A little off with the timing is bad enough, but telling me it would be a left turn instead of a right turn is more than bad timing. We’re lucky we weren’t killed.”

“You mean we’re lucky you’re a damn good driver,” Jean-Paul corrected. “Even with Isabelle working her magic, it’s going to take time to repair the car. So what are you thinking, Dany, besides that you want me to fire Xavier?”

“I’m thinking that we can’t even pull off a respectable place this year,” Daniel replied. “I think we should withdraw from the remaining races and spend the rest of the year and the off-season training up a new co-driver, someone I can really work with this time.”

“Did you have somebody in mind?” Jean-Paul asked. “Or should I look at the draft and see who’s available?”

“There was a kid who was co-driving in the J-WRC,” Daniel said. “A Canadian. Frank something. His career seemed to be taking off and then his team let him go. I liked what I saw of him before that. And he was with a French-speaking team, so he’s got to be at least conversational in French, which is good, since I doubt I could follow pace notes in English. Can you find out what happened and see if he’s available?”

Jean-Paul’s eyebrows lifted. “You’ve been thinking about this, haven’t you?”

“Yeah,” Daniel admitted. “I kept hoping we could make it through this season with a decent showing, but it isn’t going to happen, so I’d rather make the break now and come back strong for next year.”

“I’ll see what I can find out about your ‘kid’ and anyone else who might be available,” Jean-Paul said. “Tell Isabelle so she can let the crew know we’re packing up and heading back to Auvergne. We can spend the fall and winter there getting ready for next year. There are back roads there not even you have driven.”

“You keep telling yourself that,” Daniel said cockily, picking up his gear. “I’m going to talk to Isabelle and then get a shower.” He stopped when he reached the door, turning back to face the man who had been in charge of his career for the last five years. “Thanks for believing in me, Jean-Paul. I know that what happens out there on the road is ultimately my responsibility, and I appreciate you not blaming me for the rough season we’ve had.”

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