4

Frankie was first to his machine, a spanking-new, matador-red, two-door, four-speed 1957 Chevy Bel Air hardtop. He’d bought the hot rod six weeks ago—next year’s model, first off the lot—and paid for her out of his royalty jackpot. Then he hired a race mechanic to tune, tighten, and tweak her to within an inch of perfection.

Everyone was jealous.

Frankie’s red-metal demon may not have been the fastest speedster on the open road, but in Frankie’s capable hands she handled like a dream. With that Chevy he could hug a curve like Don Juan at a bordello.

Darren had a different approach to racing. He did his own engine work, and he was one of the best. He’d retrofitted a Red Ram hemi engine into an old three-window Deuce Coupe with the suicide doors.

He knew how to work under a hood like Frankie under a skirt.

The two band mates hadn’t raced each other since Frankie smashed up his old wheels six weeks back. Darren’s lemon-yellow Deuce Coupe was probably faster than Frankie’s Chevy on the straightaways, and Darren had an expert touch on the downshift, but he was far too cautious on the curves. Darren didn’t have the guts to gamble, didn’t have the balls to push his machine hard when the time was right.

There was a reason that this treacherous stretch of highway—from the Last Stop Car Hop to the Devil’s Tunnel—was called “Blood Alley.”

A lot of teenagers had died here.

Darren and Frankie both knew the legends, had heard the ghost stories around an open campfire, beers in hand, girls clutching their guys for warmth and protection.

Frankie laughed at those stories, but Darren never did. The poor sap half-believed the crazy tales. His superstition dogged him on the road.

In a tight turn, Darren was yellower than his car.

Frankie knew better.

There were no phantoms on this road. There was no Highwayman, no ghost car, no army of spectral minions waiting in the darkness beyond the highway’s edge.

Blood Alley was just an urban legend the cops dreamed up to keep the crazy kids from causing trouble.

It was a desert highway, narrow, two lanes of dimly-painted blacktop, nice and straight on the valley floor, but when it reached into the mountains the road wound through the foothills till it plunged into the heart of the Devil’s Tunnel.

A cautious driver slowed into the curves.

The road had no paved shoulder for safety, no shoulder to cry on. If your tires left the road at 90 miles per hour, they’d hit the rough dirt hard and—even money—send your car rolling over sagebrush and cactus until coyotes found your bones.

Darren was cautious by nature. He’d play it safe on the mountain curves.

That was where Frankie would win.

Not just the race, but the girl too.

Frankie saw Samantha jump into the passenger side of Darren’s coupe. She slammed the door and leaned out the open window to blow Frankie a kiss.

“Good luck, Frankie!” She added a wink and a smile.

What a tease.

Frankie zipped up the front of his black leather jacket and buckled himself in. He started his engine, then pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. He settled into the eastbound lane.

Darren pulled his Deuce Coupe right up next to Frankie’s Chevy. The coupe idled in the opposing lane, facing the wrong way, but there was little danger here—theirs were the only two cars on the road for as far as the eye could see.

Side by side, Frankie and Darren stared each other down. They gunned their engines in neutral as teens gathered on both sides of the road, cheering and shouting.

A dark-haired short girl in a cheerleader outfit stepped between the two cars and raised her arms high.

“Ready?” she asked.

I’m always ready.

The cheerleader screamed, “One, two, three!

She brought her arms down fast.

Frankie floored it and laid some rubber on the road.

With a thunderous roar, his car shot down the lane. The force of the acceleration pressed him hard against his seat and nearly knocked his teeth into his throat.

He glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the cheerleader with her skirts up, blown by the wind from the cars. He caught a glimpse of her white panties.

That’s what it’s all about!

Frankie kicked it from first to second, second to third.

Darren’s car surged ahead of him.

Frankie noted it calmly. He wasn’t worried. The road was straight. That gave Darren the early edge.

Just keep pace, Frankie thought. Don’t give up too much ground, and you can take him on curves.

He shifted into fourth, trying to jump quickly to top speed, but by the time he hit the one mile marker Darren was a full car length ahead.

As Darren changed lanes—pulling directly in front of Frankie—Samantha leaned out the passenger window and waved back at the singer. Frankie kept his eye on the girl. She waved a yellow scarf and let it go.

Frankie saw the scarf flutter in the wind towards him.

He reached out and snatched it from the air. He pulled his hand back into the car, held the yellow scarf to his nose, and sniffed it. A rich, heady perfume. Sexy as hell. The scent drove him wild.

Frankie smiled and let out a holler. “Coming for you, Baby!”

The first curve slid up on them fast.

It veered left.

Darren slowed into it, but Frankie kept his foot pressed hard on the accelerator. His body swayed to the right with the force of the turn, but the tires held the road.

By the time they both came out of the curve and onto the next straightaway, Frankie had tightened the race by a good ten yards.

A light in Frankie’s rearview mirror caught his eye.

He glanced up into the mirror and saw another car behind him. It was far back—just a pair of headlights in the darkness of the desert—but approaching fast.

Real fast.

What the hell?

Darren and Frankie were zooming at top speed, pushing 120 miles per hour, yet the car behind them was closing the gap.

Nothing on the highway moves that fast.

Frankie blinked, and shook it off.

It made no sense. Some kind of illusion, like an oasis. The desert tricked your eyes, played with your mind. Frankie couldn’t afford to lose focus now. If he lost focus, he’d lose the game.

And the girl.

He ignored the headlights behind him and kept his gaze forward. This drag race was between him and Darren.

That’s all that matters, he thought. Just get the girl.

The next curve was made for Frankie—a long sweep, veering right, banked a little, but not enough for this screaming pace.

Darren’s brake lights sparked as he went into the curve. Darren slowed to maybe 80 miles per hour. He cut a wide arc, drifting into the outside lane.

Frankie chuckled to himself. He had no intention of touching his brakes. Not on this ride. Not with that hot little tease, Samantha, waiting for him at the finish line.

As he pushed 100 miles per hour into the curve, he thought of Samantha’s soft, white, smooth flesh, her plump little titties, her silky legs, and what lay between.

He stayed in the inside lane, cut a tight arc, and tried to slip past the Deuce Coupe. Frankie’s right two wheels lifted from the pavement. Threatened to flip.

Frankie leaned his body to the right—into the curve and over the passenger side of the seat—to keep his car balanced on two wheels.

The Chevy shuddered and shook around him.

Tires screeched.

Wind sang in his ears.

The restless air whipped around inside the car.

Samantha’s yellow scarf in his hand fluttered and flapped against the dashboard. The air caught the scent of Samantha’s perfume. Frankie inhaled it deeply as he came out of the curve.

The Chevy’s two right wheels hit the pavement hard. Back on all fours, like a pouncing cat.

Darren’s yellow car was much closer now. The red Chevy was only inches behind, and in the eastbound lane. Darren was in the opposing lane. To keep his lead, he needed to get back over to Frankie’s side.

But Frankie, launching faster out of the turn, had the momentum now. The nose of his Chevy crossed the line of Darren’s rear bumper and sped forward, gaining inch by inch.

Darren tried to return to the right lane—the safe lane—but Frankie wouldn’t let him back over.

The cars touched.

Darren’s rear fender knocked on Frankie’s door.

Fat chance, buddy.

The coupe danced away lightly, settling back into the other lane. The road was straighter here, and Darren must have thought he could regain his advantage. But they were in the foothills now. The upcoming turns would weigh heavily against him.

For a quarter mile the cars raced side by side.

The road dipped. Frankie felt his stomach drop. His gut always gave him problems, and he didn’t like these sudden dips, but he wasn’t about ease up and lose the girl.

She’s mine now.

The grade increased. Frankie heard the tone of his engine change as the cars sped uphill.

Darren’s engine sounded tired. Maybe Darren was tired, too. Frankie wondered if maybe, just maybe, the poor boy’s heart wasn’t in it anymore after the humiliation of that last turn.

Frankie was on his game tonight.

The cars remained side by side. Frankie looked over at Samantha, who sat in the passenger side of the coupe.

She screamed and giggled and returned Frankie’s look.

Headlights appeared up ahead.

An oncoming truck.

Heading west.

We got company—

Darren and Samantha were still in the westbound lane, directly in the path of the barreling rig. The road had no paved shoulder, no place to escape. Just two lanes and a dotted yellow line.

Frankie kept pace beside Darren.

Again, the fender knocked on Frankie’s door.

Not you letting you in.

He blocked his rival from the eastbound lane—

Forcing Darren into a game of chicken with the truck.

Brock-bock-buckock, you chickenshit.

One way or another, Darren had to get back into the safe lane.

He either could pull ahead of Frankie—

Or drop back behind.

There was no way in hell Frankie was going to let him get ahead.

The cars jockeyed for position.

Frankie kept his advantage.

He looked to his left, past Samantha. Saw Darren hunched over the steering wheel.

Darren glanced back at him.

They locked gazes, a test of wills.

Darren’s face lit up as the truck approached, headlights glaring. If he didn’t drop back behind Frankie—and quick—he’d kiss those headlights with his own.

Your choice, buddy. Lose the girl or lose your life.

Samantha didn’t look scared. An erotic thrill played across her features.

She digs this.

Samantha must have known that Darren was a chickenshit, that Frankie was master of this road, that soon she would be spending the night with the new king of teen pop, the idol of millions.

Frankie saw his future play out across her face. He wanted to touch that face, that future. The future was his, and he would claim it.

He called out, “Samantha!”

Her eyes were bright with excitement.

He held Samantha’s yellow scarf out to her through the open window.

She reached her hand out and grabbed the other end.

Frankie didn’t let go of the scarf. Instead he steered his car a little to the left, closer to Darren’s coupe, and pulled on the scarf to bring Samantha closer to his Chevy.

She took the hint and leaned out her window towards Frankie.

He leaned out his window, his face close to hers, ready to kiss her at 120 miles per hour.

Her ruby lips were lit up by the headlights of the onrushing truck.

Their lips met.

Soft and warm and trembling.

With that kiss Frankie knew he had her.

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