Burning rubber is typically a smell that offends, but for Shawn Brady it was a sign that he was home. The sound of the screeching tires and the engine’s rhythmic roar made him feel as though he was in heaven. There were few things in his life that gave him this thrill and he could hardly believe he had allowed himself to be away from it for so long.
A white stock car whizzing by for another lap caught his gaze and with an obvious sense of purpose gleaming in his eyes, Shawn walked toward pit road. The team seemed to pay him no mind as he joined them as if he were one of them. After watching the racer speed a number of times around, he came screeching to a halt and the crew immediately went to help the racer out.
Shawn couldn’t help but start laughing to himself as he heard a string of obscenities flow out of the driver’s mouth.
His laughter finally clued in one of the team members that there was a stranger among them. “Who the hell are you?”
“The new mechanic,” Shawn answered without hesitation and walked past the crew member dismissively. He watched the racer forcefully take off his helmet and pitch it across the infield. “Tsk, tsk,” Shawn disapproved with a shake of his head. “Now, is that anyway for a professional to act?”
“Who the f-?” the driver stopped abruptly and suddenly began to laugh. Without warning he pushed Shawn. “It’s about time!”
“Good to see you, too Max,” Shawn mumbled.
“Oh stop being so sensitive you big baby,” he told him as he hooked his arm around his neck. “It’s good to have you on board buddy. I need help man. You’re the only I could think of to build me a winning car. The old girl can’t hold up in this circuit and these lazy assholes don’t know shit about high performance.” He caught a few hard glares from his team. “It’s the truth,” he added with no regrets.
“I’m glad you trust me. We haven’t exactly been the closest lately.”
“Hell, we’re family. No hard feelings, right?”
“I guess not. Hey, man I have Jacob with me. I wasn’t too sure if I should bring him out here so I left him in the trailer with Sue, the receptionist.”
“He’s probably charming her the way he can,” Max commented. “I haven’t seen him in ages. We have to go there anyway so you can meet the boss. I’ve been telling her all about you.”
“Welcome to the 21st century man,” he joked. “Look, Basic Black Enterprises is the boss, they have been for a few months now so she’s calling all the shots. Personally, I’d like for her to do more for me if you know what I mean. Hot doesn’t even begin to describe her body but cold is only the beginning for describing her personality. Anyway, let’s go check on Jake and see if the boss is free.”
Minutes later Shawn walked into the trailer, which served as the temporary management office and he smirked at seeing Sue completely enthralled by Jacob. He certainly wasn’t shy and loved to tell stories.
“Everything going OK in here?” he asked. “I hope Jacob isn’t bothering you too much Sue.”
“Bothering? This little precious could never be a bother!”
“Doing alright kiddo?” Shawn asked his four-year-old son.
“Yep!” Jacob answered excitedly. “Look at me Daddy!”
Shawn looked at the small toy car that he proudly displayed and began to roll across the floor while making loud car noises to accompany his actions. Thinking nothing of it, Shawn continued to talk with Max and Sue when they all suddenly turned when one of the office doors whipped open.
“What is this racket?”
“Max, what’s with the kid?”
“Um, sorry,” Shawn readily apologized as he picked up Jacob. “He’s just excited, that’s all. No big deal.”
“And who are you?”
“Boss, this is who I was telling you about, Shawn Brady, the super mechanic.”
“Your nephew,” she stated. Her eyes surveyed Shawn completely as if to size him up and she turned swiftly on her heels, walking back inside the small office.
Shawn gave Max a confused look and was further confused by Max’s indifferent expression.
“Come on,” Max told him. “Leave the kid for a minute.”
Shawn put Jacob back down. “Be good buddy,” he told him and as he glanced at the open office door he quickly added, “and quiet. I’ll be right back, OK?”
Jacob nodded his head as he remained focus on the toy car in his hand.
With a deep breath, Shawn walked with Max into the office and watched the mystery lady – the boss, reviewing a few papers on her desk. The office was small and he felt she was oddly well dressed to be the manager of a race car team. In a simple, yet elegant tan suit, she was clearly all business and it was also very obvious she didn’t care to be there.
“Close the door,” she muttered without looking up from the papers in front of her. Twisting her pen in between her thumb and forefinger, she appeared a bit perplexed by the information she was reading. “Have a seat,” she further commanded, again without looking at the two gentlemen before her.
Shawn sat in the uncomfortable chair, which forced him to have perfect posture. He felt he was in the military standing or rather sitting at attention.
“Yes,” both Shawn and Max replied.
She looked at Max with a hard glare. “I was speaking to Shawn.”
“I really wish you would stop calling me that.”
“It’ll grow on you,” he assured.
Her gaze shifted to Shawn. “Mr. Brady,” she started once again. “The only reason you’re here is because Max speaks so highly of you. He can’t stand anyone on the team and so we have to start from scratch, literally. However, from everything that I can see in your file, I’m not sure if you’re right for us. Basic Black Enterprises is all about maintaining a certain image and from what I can tell, I’m not sure if I want to take a chance on you, no matter how good you might be.”
“Look, Ms., um…” he paused a moment and stared at her accusingly. “You haven’t even told me who you are.”
“I’m Belle Black, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Basic Black Enterprises. In short, I am what Max affectionately calls me, the boss. I make all the executive decisions for the team. We basically saved Max from both obscurity and near bankruptcy three months ago. I am deferring to his expertise on these matters but I ultimately make all the decisions and as I was saying I don’t know if I want to make the final decision to add you to the team.”
Shawn quickly became defensive. “Look lady, um, Ms. Black, I’m not sure what you’ve heard but I’m just a hard working guy trying to make something of my life. It hasn’t been easy. You saw my son out there. I’m a single dad and trying to do right by him. It has not been easy.”
“You’ve already said that,” Belle said, not anywhere close to being impressed by his speech. She pulled out one of the papers from the stack before her. “Since we’re in the mode of repeating ourselves, let me reiterate that part of my job is to maintain the image of Basic Black Enterprise which means extensive background checks have been done. The last thing I want is a potential PR nightmare on my hands. The short of it is you are reckless. When you worked for the Wells team you raced one of the cars on the track in Richmond, crashing it when you had neither the permission nor the experience to do so. You spent two weeks in the hospital.”
“That was six years ago.”
“You want something more recent? Only two years ago, you crashed a car into the home of Titan CEO, Victor Kiriakis after his son fired you from his team. Why should I take a chance on you? Because you’re related to Max? In my world, mixing family with business is rarely a good decision.”
“And you having the last name Black and working for Basic Black is merely a coincidence?” Shawn easily quipped.
Belle gave him an impressed look. “Touché,” she said.
“Ms. Black, I’m a changed man. I have never been convicted of anything but I’m sure your papers there tell you I’ve been arrested a few times. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve moved on. The only thing I’m trying to do is be a good mechanic and a good father.”
“Now, being a part of the team requires a lot of travel. Your son will be affected. Is his mother going to take care for him?”
“Jacob’s mother is not in the picture. My grandparents raised me and they help me out with him. They’ll keep on doing that until things change. He’s a great kid.”
“And your ex-wife doesn’t want custody?”
“My ex is not his mother,” Shawn answered plainly. His anger was starting to rise at this line of questioning. “Why is my personal life being scrutinized?”
Belle ignored the question. “And the fact that your ex-wife is now engaged to Max doesn’t bother you?”
Shawn spoke through clenched teeth. “No.”
“Sure?” Belle questioned, sensing his irritation with her probing.
“Positive,” he grumbled. “Mimi and I divorced eight years ago. I’m happy for her and Max. It’s not a problem, trust me. Why are you asking me all these questions? I mean, I’m only trying to be a behind the scenes mechanic. I doubt that by being in that position I would tarnish the Basic Black reputation.”
“You’re right, being just the mechanic wouldn’t but being one of the drivers on the team would and that is why I’m asking you so many questions.”
“What are you talking about?” His eyes widened in surprise and he immediately looked at Max. “What is she talking about?”
“Surprise buddy,” he grinned. “We’re looking for another driver and I told Belle you’d be great if you got a chance. This is that chance.”
“Are you serious?”
“Shawn we’re trying to rebuild this team,” Belle continued. “Max is our star but we’d like to be in a position where we are also grooming one or two more drivers, and potentially get a couple of more seasoned drivers. Despite your mistakes of the past you haven’t done anything I can’t handle… from a public relations perspective that is.” She pulled out a thick manila envelope and handed it to Shawn. “Review this agreement. Take your time and if you’re interested sign it and we’ll move forward.”
“If we start now we can get you out of those amateur circuits you’ve been racing in and get you into some more competitive ones relatively quickly. If you work hard, we’ll be on the track together in about two years,” Max told him.
Shawn looked at them both in complete shock and surprise. “I certainly wasn’t expecting this. What’s the catch?”
“No catch man, well other than that I actually need you to be a mechanic.”
“Sure. Are you kidding?” he asked with a growing laugh. “I don’t know if I actually need to read this,” he told them as he picked up the packet. “This has been a dream of mine for I don’t know how long. You just don’t know what this means to me. You won’t regret this.”
“I hope not,” Belle told him. She wasn’t completely convinced this was the best decision, but she was willing to trust Max’s judgment this time around. “There’s a lot of work to do – that is if you decide to join the team.”
“Are you kidding? Of course, I will!” he declared excitedly only for the grin on his face to fade at the sound of a loud crash outside and he heard Sue calling out for help. Without hesitation Shawn rushed out of the office to see his son having a seizure that seemed to concern and worry everyone except Shawn who easily kept his cool. He gathered the young boy in his arms and kept him stable, doing all he could to make sure he didn’t hurt himself. “It’s OK buddy. It’s OK,” he assured. In time he watched his son finally settle down and as his seizure ended, the young Brady began to cry. Shawn concentrated only on his son and paid no attention to the looks from everyone.
Eventually, Sue came out of her shock and fright. “Is there anything I can do?” she offered. “Maybe get him some water or something?”
“Thanks but he shouldn’t drink something right after,” Shawn told her as he continued to comfort his son. He stood up while holding him and tried to find a place to sit when Max hurriedly pulled out a chair for him. “You’re OK big guy. That one was kind of scary wasn’t it?”
Jacob timidly nodded his head and he clung to Shawn, clearly embarrassed by what had happened. After a few moments, Jacob’s crying subsided but his head remained buried in his father’s chest. Shawn wasn’t going to let him go and as he finally looked up at the others he saw the looks of pity he was never able to tolerate. He stood up and looked at both Max and Belle who stood side by side. “Thanks for the opportunity, but I’m not sure if this is the right time. My son needs me.” At that, he walked out of the trailer, turning his back on his dream without reservation. For Shawn, his son was his reality, he didn’t have time to have his head in the clouds, chasing after a dream he doubted could ever come true.
“You know what his problem is!”
Max sighed heavily. He knew where this was going and since his fiancée had chosen to talk about this ever since he picked her up from the airport, he had a feeling this would be the topic of conversation for the rest of the evening. He tossed his keys aside on the small table in the foyer of his new home.
She made herself comfortable in the den as he went into the kitchen to grab a couple of beers.
“What’s his problem Mimi?” he eventually asked. He opened both bottles and joined her, handing one to her and immediately taking a long swig from his. He took a seat on his recliner and made himself comfortable.
“He’s mad at you. Isn’t it obvious?”
“Why would he be mad?”
Mimi gave him a surprised look. “Are you serious?”
“Well, yeah. Shawn and I have barely talked over the years because I was doing my thing and he was doing his. Hell, he and I have never been that close and I have never been too terribly close to the family.”
“You don’t get it do you Max?”
“Mimi what is there to get? You and Shawn got married right after high school and stayed together for only two years. He moved on and you moved on, why would he be angry? He said we were cool.”
“He might say that but he doesn’t really mean it. You don’t know Shawn like I do. He takes these types of things personally. To him it’s like a betrayal.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about and I bet I know him better than you think. You haven’t talked to him or seen him in eight years. He’s a different guy. He’s got a kid and is really trying to be the best he can for him. I kind of admire it on some level. I don’t know why he’d pass up on a chance like this. It’s what he wants. I know it is.”
“How can you admire a man who divorces me one minute and in the next gets involved with a hooker?”
“Damn it Mimi, give the guy a chance!”
“Shawn Brady is a big screw up. Always has been and always will be and I think it’s only for the best that he didn’t take your offer because he would only drag you down with him.”
“That is not fair. People change Mimi. You know, neither one of us grew up with the perfect life. We’ve made something of our lives because people helped us out along the way. Shawn has had a number of setbacks in his life and I want to help him out. Why can’t you understand that?”
“I don’t want you regretting your decision.”
“I won’t,” Max stated confidently. “I’m going to pay Shawn a visit tomorrow and see if I can’t convince him to change his mind.”
“Good luck,” she muttered.
“Why can’t you let go? I mean, how do you think that makes me feel? We’re supposed to be getting married and your ex still gets under your skin like this. What is it about Shawn that’s got you all – I don’t know. I’m not sure how to describe it except it makes me wonder if you’re still in love with him.”
Mimi quickly scoffed at the idea with a loud guffaw. “Hardly,” she sneered. “Shawn and I were two impulsive teenagers who at the first sign of freedom got married. He was saving me from an alcoholic mother and he was running from his own demons. It’s not to say I didn’t love him, I did and a part of me will always care for him. I know he’s had a tough life but so did we and look at me, look at you. He never had a plan and people like that are never destined to be anybody special.”
Max sat there surprised by her words. He knew there was more to the story but didn’t feel like pushing for anymore details. “Well, I’m still going to go talk to him tomorrow,” he told her, not swayed by her skepticism. He put his bottle down and got up from his seat to make his way next to her on the couch. “Enough about Shawn,” he declared. “I haven’t seen you in nearly a week. Did you have a good trip?”
“One of the best yet,” she replied.
He leaned in closer to her. “I am so glad to hear that.”
“But I am happy to be back home.”
“I am even gladder to hear that,” he grinned. He placed his hand under her chin and guided her to him for a kiss. “Welcome home.”
“Let me see your hands.”
Jacob proudly displayed his still damp hands to Shawn. “I washed ‘em real good Daddy!”
Shawn nodded in agreement. “You did. Good job.”
The two settled down for dinner. Shawn never claimed to be a great cook, but his son never complained. He did his best when it came to the four year old. Shawn was the only stable force in his life and he tried to provide for his son the best way he could. He was so amazed by Jacob. As he listened to the little boy tell him about his day with great enthusiasm, Shawn couldn’t help but smile and be grateful to share moments like this.
After eating and cleaning up, the two settled in the family room for their usual routine – Shawn watched a little television while Jacob played before getting ready for bed. While watching a sitcom, Shawn was suddenly surprised by a knock at his door. He glanced at the clock and wondered who it could be. After peeking through the peep hole he couldn’t understand why his visitor was there. He opened the door to see Max. Without a proper invitation Max saw Jacob inside playing and made his way into the cozy apartment.
“Hey big guy!” he said, announcing his presence. “What are you playing?”
“Spiderman,” Jacob innocently answered.
“That’s cool.” He ruffled Jacob’s dark hair and turned to face Shawn who watched him skeptically. The grin on his face was unfortunately not contagious, but he continued. “Got a minute?” he asked Shawn.
“What are you doing here Max?”
“I can’t stop by to say hey?”
“Not when you have an ulterior motive.”
“I just want to talk man.”
“Can we at least sit down and talk like civilized human beings?”
Shawn couldn’t help but chuckle lightly at his question. “Sure. We can sit at the dining table. It’ll get pretty noisy in here really quickly once he gets going.” He watched Max take a seat. “What something to drink? The strongest thing I have is Coke.”
“I don’t drink man.”
“Alright. Coke is fine.”
Shawn placed a can in front of Max and took one for himself. “So what’s up?”
“Since when have you stopped drinking?”
“I’m an alcoholic,” he replied cavalierly. “Besides, when your son has neurological problems due to fetal alcohol syndrome, it changes your perspective on things.”
“Whoa. I didn’t realize.”
“I don’t exactly blab that bit of information. The fact is Willow couldn’t stop drinking even for the sake of her child. We’re lucky nothing worse happened to him. I’m sorry if what happened freaked out Sue and Ms. Black.”
“I think they were more surprised than anything but were impressed with how you handled the situation. I was impressed, too until you did a complete about face and turned down the offer. Care to clue me in as to why?”
“Max, it’s complicated. I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
“Try me. I’m here until I finish this Coke at least. I can drink it fast or slow,” he joked.
Shawn sat back in his seat and looked over to see Jacob playing with his Spiderman toys. That was his most recent obsession. The year before it was the Hulk and now it was Spiderman but Star Wars was starting to creep up. He thought about how much he had to overcome already in his young life. He was born prematurely and was in the hospital the first two months of his life. When he was eight months old he had his first seizure and went through a battery of tests. The only connection the physicians could make was to his mother’s abuse of alcohol during her pregnancy. At the time of his birth, Shawn was no longer with Willow. When he had called it off he didn’t know she was pregnant, and when he had found out most of the damage had already been done.
“Why Shawn?” he questioned. “I thought you wanted something better for you and Jake.”
“I do but the idea of leaving him with Grandpa and Grandma for days at a time while I’m out on the road – that’s not what I want for him. Besides, I don’t think they can really handle a little kid.”
“Hey, they raised us. That couldn’t have been easy.”
“Yeah, but we were older.”
“And wilder. Jake still does what he’s supposed to – the curse of innocence,” he laughed. He examined the sullen expression on Shawn’s face and he became more serious. “What are you afraid of Shawn? This is what you’ve wanted since we were kids. You’re the one who got me into racing in the first place! What happened? I mean, I know life has dealt you some blows but you’re putting your life back together and I need you man. There are very few people I trust in this world and you are on that list. If I ever have a chance – a prayer of becoming a top racer, I need the best on my team and you are the best mechanic I can think of Shawn. All the pieces are in place. Basic Black Enterprises believes in me and better yet the boss trusts me. Now, you walking out on us did not make me look good.”
“I bet she said ‘I told you so’ to you.”
“Not at all, it was weird. It was like I saw compassion come out of those steely blue eyes after you left.”
“More like pity. She gave me that look Max. It’s a look I cannot stand. She felt sorry for me and I don’t need her or anyone else feeling sorry for me and my son. We’re making it.”
“I don’t think it was pity but if that’s how you feel then so be it. I do wish you would reconsider though. Forget about the racing part and just be my mechanic here in town. You won’t have to leave Salem. The pay is good and think about what that could mean for you and Jake. You could afford a better place and maybe have him see some specialists or something.”
“I never really thought about that.”
“And the money gets even better if you get behind the wheel. Hell, even if you did race you wouldn’t have to go far. There’s a pretty good circuit locally, in Chicago and Milwaukee and Cleveland. I’m surprised you’ve never –“
“Max why are you doing this?” he interrupted.
“Because you’re family and if there is one thing that Shawn and Caroline ever taught me is the importance of family and looking out for one another. I’m in a position I can help you make your dreams come true. Life is too short. Let me do this for you.”
“You act like you’ve got some kind of debt.”
“Well I’ve got to be honest. I feel a little guilty and awkward at times being engaged to your ex-wife.”
Shawn waved a dismissive hand. “You can give her a heck of a lot more than I ever could. Besides, that was ages ago. Please don’t tell me all of this is to clear your conscience?”
“What would you say if I said yes?”
“That you’re crazy. Mimi and I were two different people back then. She deserves happiness and if for some reason she has that with you then so be it,” he smirked.
Max laughed at Shawn’s comment, “Fair enough. So...?”
“You’re killing me here Shawn. What do you say?”
“Obviously you’re not going to rest until I say yes.”
“That obvious?” he asked.
Shawn laughed in response. “Hey, is Ms. Black going to be happy or upset to see me?”
“I really don’t think she cares either way. I haven’t really been able to crack that hard exterior. She’s the first one I know to be able to resist my charm. I’m thinking she’s a lesbian or something.”
Shawn rolled his eyes at his statement. “Because she won’t warm up to you?” he asked incredulously. “No, I get a feeling she’s out of her comfort zone. Racing isn’t her thing but she’s making do. She is attractive though, it’ll make work a little more exciting getting to see her from time to time.”
“Do I sense a little crush?” he teased.
“Hardly,” Shawn dismissed. “We are two very different people. She would never see me in that way anyway. Besides, she’s not my type – too high class and too high strung.”
“What is your type Shawn? I know lots of people. I can try and set you up.”
“Thanks but no thanks. I don’t have time for that.”
“Sure you do. Don’t you have a birthday coming up?”
“Yep, turning 28 in a few weeks,” he answered. “And from the look on your face I’m guessing you want to do something.”
“Hell yeah,” Max agreed. “Anyway, I need to get moving. So, we’re back on? We’ve got a deal?” he asked while extending his hand.
“Deal,” Shawn affirmed and shook Max’s hand. “See you at the raceway.”
“You won’t regret this. Your life is going to change forever!”
Basic Black Enterprises Ventures into Racing
SALEM, ILLINOIS (December 30, 2006) – Max Brady is so eager to race that he is already counting the days until the start of the racing season. After a modestly successful season last year, the local celebrity has joined forces with the Salem based multi-media international conglomerate, Basic Black Enterprises.
The new BBE driver will enter the new season with a renewed vigor, a pair of new race cars, a new crew chief and a new teammate – his relative, Shawn Douglas Brady who is also doubling as his mechanic. A little unorthodox, but as many would argue, everything Max Brady has done to this point has defied conventional racing wisdom.
"I didn't get to race as much as I wanted to last year, but I'm planning on a much more hectic schedule in the coming year," said Max. "I'm especially excited about racing in the new car and having Shawn on board. The power and speed that I’m going to have is unbelievable. Basic Black has been great, a real life saver – the boss has been good to me. Shawn is like a brother to me, we grew up together and he’s done some great things in the past. He has so much talent but has not gotten the chance to shine, you know, so I’m glad I was able to convince the boss to bring him on board. We’ve got a plan and in a couple of years the two of us will be on the track together. Some people say that’s a crazy goal but they haven’t seen Shawn drive. He’s got enough talent to win Daytona in a few years, after me of course,” he adds with a devilish grin.
BBE spokesperson and executive director for the team, Belle Black shares Max’s enthusiasm though is more realistic with the timeframe. “Max is far more seasoned and is ready to make the move to the main stage. Shawn has raced locally in the past, but has more work to do before he’s ready to compete in a bigger venue. Basic Black Enterprises is committed to this new venture and like our other business endeavors we anticipate great success.”
Shawn could hear Max whistling before he actually walked into the garage. “Someone’s in a good mood,” he commented as he looked up from under the hood of the car.
“Did you read the article?” Max asked. He walked further into the garage and noticed the sports section of the Salem Chronicle on a nearby table with a few grease smudges on it. “I guess so.”
“Yeah, I read it. Guess I’ve got to get used to seeing my name in print.”
“Got that right,” Max agreed. “I think it turned out pretty good, even Belle thought it was alright. It’s not easy to get her to compliment anything.”
“I wouldn’t say that man. She seemed sort of complimentary in that article.”
“I guess,” Max dismissed. “So how’s it going?”
“It’s getting there. Sorry it’s taken so long.”
“Hey, I want it to be perfect. If that means you take a little longer than so be it. Let me see what you’ve got.”
Shawn moved aside as Max examined what was under the hood.
“She is a thing of beauty.” Max’s eyes looked over single inch and as he moved closer he was already awed by Shawn’s work. “This is amazing. I’m starting to get goose bumps from it. I think I might actually have a chance this year.”
“From the sound of the article you know you have a chance this year. Now you just think you do?” Shawn teased.
Max finished his quick surveillance of the car and looked at Shawn somewhat seriously. “I’ve got to let the ego show in the public, but you know as well as I do that from here it’s an uphill battle. These other circuits were child’s play in comparison to what I’m up against. If I acted like I wasn’t nervous as hell about that I’d be lying to myself.”
“You’ll kick ass, you know that.”
“I try to convince myself of that. I spent all this time telling everyone that I will sometimes I forget to buy my own hype.”
“It’s not hype Max. It’s the truth and I just feel honored being able to help you accomplish your dream. I can’t thank you enough for this chance.”
“The best way to thank me is not to make a liar out of me.” He saw the look of confusion on Shawn’s face. “All I mean is I’m predicting great things for you man.”
“You just want to make sure you save face with Ms. Black.”
“Call her Belle. She’s really not into all that formal stuff.”
“I feel kind of uncomfortable doing that.”
“Whatever,” Max dismissed. “I guess you’re right though. She can’t stand racing but she’s competitive and has challenged me. She’s going to challenge you, too.”
“I bet. She’s hard as nails.”
“Well a couple of knuckleheads like us need that,” Max laughed. “Anyway I’ve got to run. By the way, this weekend there’s going to be a big party at The Marquee, that new club downtown by the pier.”
“What’s the party for?”
“For me,” Max answered cavalierly. “Actually, it’s for us – for the team. Basic Black is having this thing to celebrate the new team and all that stuff. Nothing too fancy, it should be fun. Make sure you get a babysitter for Jake because you’ve got to be there. Don’t try to bail out on this. You don’t want to get Ms. Black upset,” he teased.
“Something tells me I don’t want to disappoint her. I’ll be there.”
“Alright man, I’ll see ya. Take it easy.”
Shawn felt tremendously out of his element at the party. There were more Basic Black executives than he could have expected and fewer people like him. Even Max was hamming it up and apparently having fun rubbing elbows with the upper crust. Shawn had never felt more uncomfortable. He had talked to a few people and tried not to be Max’s shadow, but mingling and making small talk wasn’t close to being his forte.
Back at the bar, he got the bartender’s attention. “Cranberry juice,” he requested.
“Yeah,” he told him and waited patiently.
“So what’s your poison?”
Shawn easily recognized the voice and he looked to his right to see Mimi leaning against the bar next to him. “What’s up Mimi?”
“We haven’t seen each other in nearly a decade and all you can say is, ‘what’s up’?” she questioned.
He cracked a smile and put an arm around her shoulder for what he felt was a “safe” hug.
“That was a little better, I think.”
“What do you expect me to do Mimi? There’s press here and tons of folks who know you’re engaged to Max and that I’m your ex-husband. You know how people can talk.”
“Am I hearing you correctly? Is Shawn Douglas Brady actually concerned about what other people think of him?”
“I’m not trying to jeopardize this chance for anything.”
“Your cranberry juice,” the bartender announced as he placed the drink in front of Shawn.
“Thanks,” Shawn said as he picked up the glass. He took a sip and saw her leery expression.
“You’re drinking juice?”
“I don’t drink alcohol Mimi.”
“Since when?” she exclaimed in surprise.
“It’s been a while.”
“Wow, I can’t believe you’re actually taking something serious. This really means a lot to you. Well, I am waiting for the old Shawn to come back, I know he can’t be too far away. You and I both know it’s only a matter of time before you mess this up like everything else in your life.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“You know what I mean. Don’t take it personally.”
“Kind of hard not to when you insult me to my face,” he told her, clearly offended. “I’ll see you later.”
A smug look crept along Mimi’s face as she watched him walk away, disappearing into the crowd.
Shawn was grateful to find a door to the empty patio. He walked outside and took the opportunity to check on Jacob. The moment his grandmother answered the phone he could hear Jacob’s voice in the background blended with his grandfather’s.
“Sounds like you’re all having fun.”
“You know we enjoy having Jacob with us. Your grandfather is telling him a grand tale as we speak.”
“I’m sure. Grandpa certainly has no shortage of those.”
“So true,” his grandmother agreed. “Let me get Jacob for you.”
In moments, Jacob was on the phone. “Hi Daddy!” he answered brightly.
“Hey buddy, how’re you doing?”
“Uh-huh. Are you coming over?”
“Not tonight. I’ll pick you up in the morning if that’s OK. I’m going to be getting home late, way after you go to sleep so I don’t want to wake you up. You be good, alright and I’ll see you first thing in the morning.”
Shawn smiled to himself. “I love you buddy.”
“I love you, too.”
After talking to his grandmother a little longer, he ended the call and as he replaced the phone back in the holder on his hip he realized he was not alone. He turned to see Belle standing near the door. “Ms. Black, how long have you been -?”
“I’m sorry,” she interrupted. “I saw you come out here and well...”
“It’s OK, I was just surprised to see you there, that’s all.”
An awkward silence fell among them before Belle finally spoke. “I didn’t mean to overhear your conversation but it was sweet hearing you talk to your son.”
Shawn became flushed with embarrassment at her words. “Thanks Ms. Black.”
“Call me Belle. Ms. Black makes me sound like a teacher or something,” she said with a smile.
Shawn seemed temporarily spellbound by the smile she gave. “OK… Belle,” he added deliberately as if to become more comfortable with the idea.
“So, how old is Jacob?”
“You mean that wasn’t in my file?”
Belle appeared startled by the question. “Shawn, I –“
“It was a bad joke,” he explained. “He’s four. Actually, four and a half if you ask him. Even though he doesn’t know what a half is, he keeps adding that,” he chuckled. “The funny thing is he’s right. He is exactly six months away from turning five.”
“Well he’s an adorable little boy.”
“I didn’t think you liked kids.”
“I’m not great with them.”
“I’m sure you’re just fine. There’s not much to kids. I think we put more pressure on ourselves to be good with them. They have a power over us to be better than we are and I go through each day hoping I don’t let him down.”
“He’s lucky to have you as a father.”
“I’m lucky to have him as a son. No matter what I’ve done in my life, he passes no judgments and holds no grudges. I can’t say that for a lot of the adults in my life.”
“Shawn, you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to and if this is none of my business please let me know but when he was convulsing in the office, does that happen often? You handled the entire situation with such calm.”
After a brief pause, Shawn finally answered. “Jacob has occasional seizures. He’s been having them since he was a baby.”
“Epileptic?” she questioned.
“No. It’s a complication from fetal alcohol syndrome. Developmentally he is fine, although problems may arise as he gets older, but for now the doctors say he is OK. The only connection they can make for the seizures is the fact that Willow, his mother, drank while she was pregnant with him. He takes medication but on rare occasions he’ll have a seizure. I’m sorry if you got a little freaked out by it.”
“No, no – don’t apologize, please. I was just worried. It was so unexpected and I didn’t know how to react.”
“The best thing to do is to keep calm and get him out of danger. Because I know it scares him, I have to be calm, but inside I am freaking out. It’s tough.”
“I can only imagine,” she sympathized. “You know, I think back to our first meeting and I have to apologize for acting so skeptical and condescending. The fact of the matter is I’m glad things worked out and that Max was able to convince you to join the team. I sincerely believe you will be a great asset. I look forward to seeing you succeed.”
“No pressure, right?”
“You’ll be able to meet the challenge, I have faith in you.”
“It’s good to know that you do. Max was right.”
“Well, the other day we were talking about how you’re competitive and like to challenge him.”
“I am competitive. You can’t be in my line of work without being competitive and demanding the best from those who work for you. I’ve worked for Basic Black for 10 years now. Despite what many may think I wasn’t handed a job because my father is CEO. I was an intern during college and worked my way up from an analyst, director, and VP. As I climb I want others around me to succeed. A lot of times I pick those who others have dismissed along the way.”
“I would say I fit into that category.”
“Shawn you are a good and decent person. I’ve been able to pick up on at least that much. Don’t disappoint me.”
“I will try my hardest not to.”
“Good. Now let’s go back inside before people start wondering what we’re doing out here.”
Shawn gave her a curious gaze. “Is that a bad thing?”
“It can be. Welcome to the world of keeping up appearances.” She walked to the door and opened it. “Enjoy the party,” she said before leaving him alone outside once again.
Shawn stood there for a moment before deciding to heed his boss’ advice. It certainly was a new world and he wasn’t too sure how he was going to succeed in it but had a good feeling Belle was going to guide him along the way.
He was definitely excited by the possibility.
The Basic Black tower was the tallest building in the downtown Salem skyline. With its distinct style, it had quickly become a landmark for the moderate size Midwestern city. For those inside the building, the view was also quite impressive. Serene was often used to describe the picturesque view of the river and lush foliage just beyond the outskirts of the city that could be easily seen from the top.
Sitting back in her plush leather chair, Belle sipped on her coffee as she enjoyed the scenery. It was the perfect time as she could see the sun begin to rise in the east. This is what she enjoyed. The calm before the storm as she often referred to it. This was her time to collect her thoughts before the office became bustling. The only person she knew was already working at this time soon interrupted her thoughts with his typical phone call.
“Hi Dad,” she answered.
“Izzy B, good morning!” John Black enthusiastically declared. “How are you?”
“Just fine Dad. How is the morning treating you?”
“Can’t complain,” he answered. “Now, you know I’m flying to New York shortly. I’ll fly into Chicago for the race to lend my support for Shawn’s first race. Is everything on schedule?”
“Yes, everything is under control.”
“I have no doubt that it is.”
“Why do a sense a ‘but’ is coming up?”
“Well one thing concerns me Izzy. There’s very little marketing going on.”
“Dad, we can’t market this like our other businesses and divisions.”
“I know and I know this takes time and you know I’m not patient. Why did we decide to do this again?”
Belle laughed. Her father often asked this question and she was always quick to remind him, “Because Titan has a team.”
“Competition is a strain on this organization.”
John sighed heavily. “Is there an angle we can work for Shawn? I want this kid’s name known. I want folks to be interested in him.”
“Well we’ve had pretty good press. A couple of articles came out not too long ago.”
“You mean those two unimpressive articles in the Salem Chronicle when we signed the Brady’s on? Izzy you know that is not adequate. Plus that was months ago – about six or seven months ago if memory serves me correctly. What’s been going on since then?”
“Well Dad, Max is getting most of the publicity and rightly so, he is the only actual professional racer we have. Shawn has been doing mini sprints and local races, nothing that typically garners a lot of press. This weekend is different though. After Saturday, depending on how he finishes we can start putting more buzz around him and start pushing for bigger sponsors. He has to sort of prove himself first before –“
“I understand all that, but figure out a way to create some buzz around him. Something about him has to appeal to the masses.”
“Dad, there isn’t much to Shawn. He’s a single father, a great mechanic and an overall good guy. His wild days are over and he is intensely private.”
“What about his son?”
“What about him?”
“Doesn’t he have some kind of condition?”
“Dad, I’m not going to try to stir up some kind of sympathy for him because his son has FAS. That’s a betrayal of his trust and not to mention rather deplorable on our part.”
“Put a good spin on it Izzy, I know you can. He’ll be fine. This is for his benefit.”
“Dad you don’t understand, I…”
“I’ve got to run sweetheart. I’ll see you this weekend. I expect to see an article in the Chicago Tribune.”
“Dad…” she sighed as she heard the click of his phone. “Shit,” she muttered under her breath. There was no way she could get out of this one she felt. Putting a spin on the story seemed like an impossible task.
The peacefulness of the morning had already been disturbed – in fact it had been jolted. She went to her computer and scrolled through her numerous contacts, trying to find the right one. Already regretting the decision, she picked up the phone and quickly dialed.
“Harold! Good morning, how are you? This is Belle Black with Basic Black Enterprises.”
“There is only one Belle Black I know. How are you darling?”
“Harold I have a favor to ask of you and along with it comes a great story.”
“Basic Black gossip?” Harold asked. His curiosity surged at the possibility. Harold Wentworth was one of the most respected journalists in the Chicago Metropolitan and he was a Salem native, which made him a good ally for getting Basic Black news in a bigger press market. He and Belle shared a strong rapport and a good working relationship.
“No. I have a feel good story about one of our racers.”
“Sports!” Harold scoffed at the idea. “Belle what happened to the professional esteem we shared?”
“You know I adore you and your work. You are the only one I trust to do this for me.”
“Belle, with all due respect, I have more pressing stories, particularly one concerning a member of city council that if I do not have wrapped up today my job will be on the line. I would love to help you out sweetie but I don’t think it’ll happen.”
“Harold, what can I do to change your mind?”
“Exclusive coverage of one of Basic Black’s Board meetings,” he eagerly requested.
“Within reason Harold.”
“It was worth a try.”
“I applaud your effort. Now I know there’s got to be something else, other than being the first journalist I contact regarding any company news. We’re talking early edition here.”
“How early?” he asked curiously.
“It will be front page news of the Tribune before the others even get it conveniently leaked to them.”
“You drive a hard bargain Belle. That’s why you are so successful already, a diva in the works!”
Belle laughed at his enthusiasm. “Thank you Harold.”
“So, is this a story I’m getting from the SVP or has it been leaked to me?”
“I don’t want my name mentioned, other than to see I could not be reached for comment.”
“Wow, this must be interesting. So what is it? A sex scandal?” he asked.
“No. It’s actually an endearing story that if you tell it the way I know you can people will be flocking to him.”
“You mean women will be throwing their –“
“Harold, keep it clean,” she warned.
With a jovial laugh, Harold continued. “Always my dear,” he assured. “So, what’s the scoop?”
The day before the race, Belle was finishing up a few last minute things when the door to her office flew open and Shawn burst inside in a rage.
Startled by the intrusion, she stared at him, wide eyed and concerned about what he was going to do. He held a couple of sheets of paper in his hand which he threw down onto her mahogany desk in disgust.
“Did you know about this?” he asked her accusingly.
Belle glanced at the papers strewn across her desk and realized they were a printout of the Chicago Tribune article Harold had written, as promised.
“W-what?” she asked, clearly shaken by the tone of his voice. She envisioned he would be upset, but not this irate.
“Did you know about this?” he repeated more emphatically than before.
“I knew that maybe –“
“How did they find out? Why would he write a story about my son? What would be the point?”
“Shawn, the press – well, they write what they want to and sometimes it doesn’t make a lot of sense. There’s always the possibility that someone leaked the information, it’s not exactly a secret about Jacob. Perhaps one of his kindergarten teachers or –“
“No, they wouldn’t have done this. Your name is mentioned in this article.”
“That I couldn’t be reached,” she defended.
“Conveniently,” he muttered. “Belle, you may think I’m an idiot, I don’t know but this whole thing stinks and I can’t help but think you’re behind this. Why would they write about me? I’m nobody, Max is the star. And this race, it’s nothing – it’s small in comparison to Sunday’s race.”
“That’s not true.”
“What’s not true? You’re not behind this?”
“I was disagreeing with your statement that you are nobody and that this race is nothing. You are going to be a star and after this race we can start marketing you appropriately,” she explained. There was a long contemplative pause before she continued. “But we felt you needed a little push, a reason for people to care before the race and so I contacted a very well respected journalist, a trusted friend who I knew would give your story the dignity and respect it deserves.”
“The dignity and respect?” he asked incredulously. “Do you even know what that means?”
“Shawn I didn’t mean to betray you but I knew you would never agree to this.”
“Look, there is a lot of good that can come out of this.”
“I don’t give a shit about what good can come out of this! All I care about is the effect a story like this has on an innocent five year old boy. I’ve been with the team for eight months and I never expected you to throw my personal life to the media like that. Did you think at all or were you too busy trying to get Basic Black publicity? You screwed up Belle and I don’t care if you’re my boss, I’m going to tell when you screw up and when you’ve done something unforgivable. Listen to me very carefully. If you ever do something like this again, I’m gone. I will leave all of this behind and you’ll have to find some other sucker to take advantage of. I will not be your pawn. This is not a damn game. This is my life!”