Posted December 29, 2021

The Brilliant Boy Billionaire

The Amazing Journey of a Remarkable Kid, by Altimexis

PART ELEVEN – Of Cuba & Cars

Chapter 5: Taking Precautions

For the first time in history, the pole position at the Indy 500 would be occupied by a woman. Angie Brae had turned in a stellar performance with speeds of 252.81 on lap one, 269.34 on lap two, 273.33 on lap three and 274.84 on lap four for an average qualifying run of 267.58 mph. The time trials were still going on, but it was unlikely that anyone in a conventional, ethanol-powered race car could catch us. Already, there was talk of restricting the power output of electric vehicles in future races or outright banning them. Most enthusiasts were cautioning to wait until after the race itself to see if we could go the distance. I, for one, knew we’d go the distance, but I didn’t see the need for restrictions at all.

I’d scheduled a press conference for Tuesday at which I intended to announce that Applazon would make the technology available in time for next year’s Indy 500 to anyone that wanted it, at cost, and that we’d guarantee the cost would be competitive with the use of a stock engine. I’d discussed the options with Jeff, and he was fully onboard with my proposal. The truth was that in quantity, I already could manufacture the complete wheel assembly for about twenty thousand per wheel, excluding the cost of the tire. Drivers would need a minimum of nine wheels to race, which included a complete change of sets plus one spare. The charging station and vehicle electronics would run another fifty grand, making the cost of entry using our technology around a quarter-million dollars. Fabrication of a basic car would cost around a half million, excluding the wheel assemblies and electronics.

An entry-level car with a stock engine ran about a million, with a competitive car costing upwards of two-million dollars. Already, our pole-setting vehicle could be produced at a similar cost to that of an ethanol-powered entry-level car. On Tuesday, everyone would know it. Next year’s race would almost certainly include several all-electric vehicles, if not a majority of them. However, next year I hoped to introduce a Peltier engine into the body of the car, cooling the air in front of the vehicle and heating it in the rear, virtually eliminating drag. I expected to qualify at over 300 mph and to win the race for the first time with an average speed over 220 mph. The Indy circuit had its rules and regulations, and I was bound and determined to upend them.

“So, you’re the brilliant boy billionaire,” a gruff-sounding female voice came from behind me. I turned around to see an elegantly dressed, older woman with silver hair and weathered skin. She appeared to be well into her seventies, if I had to guess, or perhaps she’d spent a lot of time out in the sun.

“I’ve been called that,” I replied, “but that kind of wealth is a drop in the bucket compared to what it’ll take to save the planet.”

“It’s hard to believe you grew up in Southern Indiana, but then so did Mellencamp, and he’s a flaming liberal now. You ought to know better,” she responded. Fuck, she was a climate denier. I’d studied the science behind climate change and there was little doubt; if we didn’t change course with respect to the burning of fossil fuels, civilization as we know it would be in serious peril. “You have the advantage of knowing my name,” I replied. “I still don’t know who you are.”

“I’m Marjorie Shapiro,” she replied. “You ought to know who I am, but I’m betting you don’t, so I’ll tell you. I’m the chairman of the board of Culver Diesel.”

“Oh, that’s great,” I replied as I proffered my hand, but she kept her arms crossed across her chest. “I already reached out to the CEO and COO, and I’ve spoken with your lead engineers on the phone. Speaking to you is even better. We need to talk.”

“What’s the point?” she replied. “Electric motors have never come close to matching a gasoline engine, let alone the diesel engines we produce. They never have, and they never will.”

“Did you not see the performance of our cars in the Qualifications?” I asked. “We’re in the number one and two spots.”

“Four laps are a far cry from two hundred laps in a full race,” she replied.

“True,” I replied, “but as the one who designed the super­conductucting power cores and motors that drive the cars, I have no doubt that they’ll go the distance.”

“I’ll tell you what,” she responded. “How about a friendly bet. I bet you one billion dollars in cash that not only will neither of your cars win the Indy 500 this year, but they won’t even finish the race. There’s no way an electric car can go the distance.” I heard Henry gasp next to me, but this was a bet I expected we’d win – and handily.

“Let’s spice it up a little,” I suggested. “If one of our cars wins the race with an average speed of 200 mph or more, exclusive of yellow flags, I’ll not only get a billion in cash but a seat on your board. I cannot offer you a spot on the Applazon board, so If neither car finishes the halfway point in the race, you’ll get an extra billion in cash and a seat on Jeff Barlow’s next suborbital spaceflight.”

“That’s hardly a fair bet,” Ms. Shapiro replied. “Culver is a multinational company with a market valuation in the hundreds of billions. A seat on our board would give you the power to affect corporate policy and eliminate competition. A seat on Mr. Barlow’s flying penis would more than likely get me killed.” It took all my effort to keep from laughing, as Jeff’s suborbital, tourist launch vehicle had indeed been compared to a flying penis.

“I’m confused,” Henry interrupted. “Who wins how much depending on what?”

“If neither car finishes the race, Ms. Shapiro wins a billion dollars,” I explained. “If neither car even makes it to the half-way point, she wins two billion plus a seat on Jeff Barlow’s ‘Flying Penis’, as she calls it. The spaceflight’s optional, but the launch vehicle’s as safe as any other form of air transport. Regardless, the two billion would be hers to keep. On the other hand, if even one of our cars finishes the full race, I’ll win a billion dollars, and if one of our cars finishes in first place with an average speed of at least 200 miles per hour, exclusive of time raced under yellow lights, I’ll get a seat on the Culver Board of Directors.”

Then turning back to face Ms. Shapiro, I continued, “Regarding my seat on your board, the ability to affect corporate policy is partly the idea, although I have no intention of eliminating competition. The Securities and Exchange Commission would have a field day with that. My goal is to save Culver by easing the transition away from diesel, which is a dead end. I should hope that a billion dollars is more than a fair trade for putting up with me for my term on your board. We already have a relationship, in case you weren’t aware. Your company is hosted by Applazon Cloud Resources. I designed the servers that serve up your website all over the world.”

“And we could just as easily use someone else,” she responded. “It’s not all that important, anyway. We did fine in the days before the internet, after all.” Boy, was she an ignoramus.

“I hate to correct you,” I countered, “but I did my homework in preparing to meet with your people. Eighty percent of your business comes through your web portal. Your customers order most of your components online using our servers. Yes, you could move your web services to another company. You’d have to pay a princely sum to break your contract with Applazon, and you’d end up paying millions to actually move the content to a different hardware platform. In any case, the technology underlying the servers for your website is the same technology we use to build super­conductucting motors and batteries.”

“Your motors will never be powerful enough to replace our diesels,” she responded, changing the subject as people like her always did when they couldn’t come up with a response to an argument.

“On the contrary, I already have a prototype wheel-mounted motor for use in long-haul trucking,” I replied. “I have designs on the drawing board for similar motors in locomotives, container ships and even military submarines. I also have a design for rail using magnetic levitation that’s dramatically faster and more efficient than traditional rail transport, and I have a battery-powered, jet-engine design that does likewise for air transport. My motors may cost more up front compared to your diesels, but they’re virtually maintenance-free, and the operating cost per mile is a fraction of that of diesel.”

“Even if your motor is successful, you’ll still need our generators if you’re to meet the added demand for electricity, and as the demand for coal and oil drops, so will the price. You’ll never catch up with the promise of cheap energy from oil,” she concluded. What an idiot!

“Where to begin?” I countered. “Okay, first, as the demand for coal, oil and gas falls, the price will go down for sure, but the cost to obtain it will not. Already, it costs more to mine, drill and frack than the market will bear. Fossil fuels are no longer competitive with wind energy. Now that’s something I can state for certain. I’ve designed a wind turbine that has no moving parts. It’s as tall as an eighty-story building and takes up only two hundred square feet. It’s strong enough to withstand a Category 5 hurricane and a magnitude 8 earthquake but can be retracted into an eight-story bunker underground in the event of an adverse weather event.

“The power is generated by six thousand curved, horizontal discs, two meters in diameter, which can fit in forty standard forty-foot shipping containers. In operation, each disc generates over twenty kilowatts of power in an average American wind and can store enough power to last over a week without any wind.” Indeed, in the weeks since returning from Cuba, between the piezoelectric effect and a thinner, more aerodynamic disc design that didn’t require a vacuum casing, we’d more than tripled the output. “The total output of each of my wind turbines in a typical ten mph American wind is 125 megawatts. I know for a fact that Culver makes a natural-gas-fired generator with similar output. However, unlike the wind, which is free, natural gas is not, and it contributes to greenhouse-gas emissions. Just one of our wind turbines can provide enough power for 100,000 typical Americans, including all of their transportation needs. The entire energy needs of the United States could be met with only 3,300 of my wind turbines. You could supply the energy needs of the entire planet with some 80,000 wind turbines. Once built, maintenance costs would be negligible, and as I said, the wind and the energy that results from it is virtually free.”

“And how much will all of that cost, Dr. Jeffries?” Ms. Shapiro asked.

Shrugging my shoulders, I replied, “About $40 trillion with current manufacturing costs. Maybe a quarter of that with mass production.”

“40 trillion dollars?” she practically shouted. “Are you out of your fucking mind? You expect the taxpayers to pay for that?”

“Let’s look at the economics of it,” I continued. “My wind turbines have no moving parts and can withstand fires, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes with sustained winds of up to 300 kph. They require very little maintenance, have almost no impact on the environment and will outlast most of us. The average American uses about 1.25 kilowatts on average and spends about $2,500 annually on energy, which comes to a total cost of $825 billion per year in the U.S. If all of the industrialized nations kick in proportionately to their GDP, we can build an energy infrastructure based on wind energy for the current cost of twelve years of electricity. If we cut the manufacturing cost by three-quarters, that would come down to just three years. It’ll take at least thirty years to build all those turbines, so cutting our energy consumption by just ten percent would be enough to pay the full cost of deploying the wind turbines, worldwide.”

“Americans will never be able to cut their energy usage that much —”

“We already have, and we’ll do it again.”

“Who’s going to pay for it? Americans will never authorize Congress to spend that kind of money,” Ms. Shapiro countered. “People are happy with fossil fuels, Dr. Jeffries. Why should they cut their energy consumption by ten percent, or incur trillions of dollars in government debt if they don’t have to?”

“Most people are not happy with fossil fuels, particularly when considering the effects of pollution and climate change. Most people, given the choice, will opt for renewables if the high up-front cost is spread out over time,” I tried to explain, but it was clear she wasn’t buying it.

“Look,” I continued, “Regardless of what you think or what the government is willing to invest in the technology, the private sector will have much to say about the adoption of renewable energy. Applazon has made the commitment to use 100-percent renewable energy in less than a decade. That’s huge as it’ll set the stage for other large corporations to do the same. Unlike consumers, corporations can justify high, up-front costs that save money in the long. Ford, GM and Chrysler have all committed to a 100-percent electric future. The energy sector simply isn’t going to invest in fossil-fuel plants when renewables are competitive.

“America’s share of the total worldwide cost is about $10 trillion at current costs, but it could be as little as $2.5 trillion if my estimates prove to be valid. If the past is a guide, I tend to underestimate rather than overestimate cost savings. We’ll pay that back with dividends in no time. Even without government investment, wind turbines will be erected as fast as we can make them, especially by private utilities.”

“For large segments of the economy, diesel engines will still be necessary,” she countered. “Long-haul truckers can’t afford to sit idly while their trucks recharge.”

“And they won’t have to,” I replied. “My new motors are so efficient that they can drive a truck for more than a thousand miles on a single charge and then recharge in as little as four hours while the truckers catch up on their sleep. I’ve actually found a way to incorporate the battery directly into the motor itself. That makes for much more efficient energy transfer and cooler operation. With motors in the wheels on the semi-trailer as well as the truck, truckers can get up a steep incline without loss of speed or efficiency and recover the energy on the way back down. Even if you’re a self-employed, long-haul trucker and you have the choice of buying a diesel truck versus an electric when the costs are about the same, you’ll buy the electric. Not only is the cost of electricity considerably less than diesel fuel, but the electric motors are virtually maintenance-free.

“When it comes to trains, we can use magnetic levitation in place of wheels to reduce friction and increase speed. With a Peltier engine, we can actually reduce drag enough to allow supersonic train travel without a sonic boom. Likewise with airplanes. Our Peltier engine can replace conventional jet engines and get a plane from coast to coast or across the Pacific at supersonic speeds on a single charge. Conventional jet engines can’t compete with that.

“Whether you like it or not, this is happening. You can try digging in your heels all you want and insisting that climate change is all a hoax, but people are switching to renewable energy because it’s cheaper, and that will happen, particularly with diesels. If you ignore what’s happening, Culver will be bankrupt within ten years – maybe sooner. If you partner with us and make super­conductucting ceramic motors under our license, you’ll ride the wave of renewable energy into the future.”

“J.J.,” Ms. Shapiro continued, “I admire your youthful enthusiasm, but you’re just a teenager. You don’t know how intransigent moneyed interests really are and how much power we have. We’ll crush you before you even open your factory in Cuba. The politicians are on our side because we give generously to their campaigns, and we make them a lot of money in other ways. Even the regulators tend to favor the existing power structure.” I couldn’t help but notice that she’d switched to using my initials.

I started to open my mouth, but then thought better of it. When I did speak, it was with carefully measured words. “I’m sure you have the money and the means to get much of what you want. I’m sure you have some politicians in your pocket. However, I’m sure you never intended for Trump’s base to mount an insurrection on the Capitol, yet it happened and with better organization and a bit more luck, it would have succeeded —”

“Oh, come on, J.J.,” Ms. Shapiro interrupted. “Even the FBI admitted that the Jan. 6 riot did not constitute an armed insurrection.”

“Call it what you will, a mob of rioters breached police barricades, smashed windows and broke into the Capitol with the express intent of preventing Congress from completing the Constitutionally-mandated process of counting and certifying the electoral votes. They were intent on reversing the presidential election, which would constitute a coup. You might say they weren’t armed, but they used flagpoles and other implements to beat members of the Capitol police, many of whom suffered serious injury. Some of the rioters were chanting, ‘Hang Mike Pence,’ and I seriously doubt that was an idol threat. Some of them went in search of Nancy Pelosi, and I don’t think it was so they could have a friendly chat. Some went in there with plastic handcuffs with the apparent intent to take hostages. Had the rioters managed to get their hands on the actual electoral vote certifications from the states, it’s not clear what would’ve happened.

“The biggest mistake people of means make is thinking their money insulates them from political turmoil. No amount of money can protect you from a fascist, autocratic leader, as numerous German business leaders found out when Hitler came to power, particularly those that were Jewish.”

“I’m not Jewish, J.J.,” Ms. Shapiro interjected.

“I didn’t say you were,” I countered. Although taken aback by her declaration, I didn’t let it show. I'd known from visiting Indianapolis as a young boy that Shapiro’s Delicatessen had been something of a Hoosier institution for more than a century, and I’d obviously jumped to the conclusion that Marjorie Shapiro was Jewish. “I was merely making a point. You have your politicians. I, on the other hand, have the internet. Although my conscience prevents me from doing anything so petty as to slow down access to your web portal, undoubtedly, there are consequences for taking on the largest corporation in the world. You should never underestimate me any more than I will ever underestimate you again. Suffice it to say that we both have nuclear options and had best not use them.

“Regarding the future of your company, come the Memorial Day weekend, one of our drivers will win the race with an average speed of over 200 mph. As a result, I’ll have a seat on your board and a chunk of your change. Now that you know what I can do, I trust you’ll honor our little bet, too. With a seat on your board, I’ll use my charm to convince the other board members that it’s time for Culver to take a new direction. If you resist, I expect the other board members will decide it’s time for new leadership.”

Pursing her lips, she responded, “J.J., you’re playing with fire. You should never assume people play by the rules. I’m going to win that bet, and I’ll use the proceeds to initiate a hostile takeover of Applazon.”

“You intend to use two-billion dollars to take on a two-trillion-dollar corporation?” I asked in disbelief.

“I don’t need to buy my way in,” She responded. “I only need to convince a majority of stockholders that I deserve a seat at the table. With a seat on the Applazon board, it’ll be you who has to put up with a coup from me.” With that, Marjorie Shapiro stormed off, leaving me dumbfounded in her wake.

“Well, that was unexpected,” Henry commented. “For what it’s worth, I got the whole conversation on my phone.”

“That could prove to be useful,” I responded.

“Do you really think she could scuttle our entries in the race?” my boyfriend asked.

“All it would take is bribing someone on the pit crew and one of the motors being replaced with one that’s depleted,” I pointed out.

“Fuck!” Henry responded. “You need to contact Jeff.”

“Yeah, I do. I’ll call him on his cell,” I replied.

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“I should’ve warned you about Marjorie,” Jeff began. We were having dinner in a private dining room at Hinata, a Japanese fine-dining establishment that was on a par with any place I’d eaten in Japan. The food was amazingly authentic. In a reflection of the times, we had the room thoroughly scanned for bugs and other electronic devices. We also used a device that masked human speech, as well as a scrambler, just in case we missed finding any listening devices.

“I’d been under the impression that her family was easing her out, but she’s a formidable woman who doesn’t let a little thing like family get in the way of stabbing you in the back,” Jeff continued. “The scary thing is that she’s capable of anything. You’ve made a formidable enemy. I fear that if she’s determined, she’ll stop at nothing to win the bet.”

“Isn’t there something we can do to counter anything she might do?” I asked. “Could you offer something like a few million dollars to the members of our team if we win?”

“J.J., she’s ruthless, and we’re not.” Jeff replied. “She’s not above threatening family members of the crew in ways you can’t imagine. People have lost jobs, people have been injured – and worse.”

“God, I’m sorry I agreed to the bet,” I responded. “Should I try to call it off?”

Sighing, Jeff said, “It’s too late for that. I’d suggest bringing in a new crew at the last second, but that might cause us to lose anyway. You don’t want to bring in a new crew on race day.”

“Could we substitute new race cars at the last minute?” I asked.

“Qualifications were as much for the car as for the driver,” Jeff explained.

“Couldn’t we at least replace the wheel assemblies at the last minute?” I asked. “That way, we could maintain control over the most critical components.”

“Why don’t you add some protective shielding to the wheel assembly?” Henry suggested. “The shields could be billed as being to prevent catastrophic failure from airborne debris, but they’d also prevent most sabotage.”

“They could also hide additional sensors and monitors for detection of tampering,” Jeff suggested.

“I could definitely do that, and I will,” I replied. “While I’m at it, I’ll replace the electronics in the guise of making an upgrade. I’ll update the software to make it more robust and resistant to malware and add monitoring functionality so I’ll know if anyone tried to alter it. I’ll add a form of remote access so I can fix problems on the fly, even during the race if necessary.”

“That’s all well and good, but high tech isn’t her style,” Jeff countered. “I’d worry more about loosened bolts, punctured tires and the like. You might add surveillance cameras if you can keep them well hidden. More than that, be vigilant and carefully inspect everything before the cars go out on the track.”

“It sounds like we have our work cut out for us and only about a week to get it done.” Henry noted.”

“For sure,” I agreed. “What if she bribes or blackmails one of the drivers into clipping the other car?” I asked, but then answered my own question. “Perhaps I can add proximity sensors to steer the cars out of harm’s way, and maybe a remote kill switch that cuts the speed and forces a driver to head for the pits. I’ll add hidden surveillance cameras on the cars themselves, too. I can justify that in terms of collecting data.”

“One more thing,” Jeff added. “I’m worried about the possibility she might try to hurt either of you. I don’t think she’d be that brazen, but then again, your bet puts billions of dollars in play as well as the fate of both companies. However, don’t be surprised if she reneges on the bet when we win the race. That might actually be for the best, as we’d then be free to beat her at her own game and to bankrupt her company

“In any case, you should be safe once the race is underway, as anything that happens then would more likely lock in our victory than prevent it. Before then, you two are vulnerable. To that end, you’ll go no place other than your hotel room and the racetrack between now and Memorial Day. I’ll have all of your meals delivered, and each meal will include a code that must match the one that will be sent to both your phones.

“I’ll send a car for you to take you between the hotel and the racetrack. You’ll be escorted by your bodyguards, and the car will be a Hummer, and again, the code on the window must match the one sent to your phones. When at the racetrack, you’ll confine yourselves to the garage and to our hospitality suite overlooking Gasoline Alley.” Gasoline Alley was the name given to the area behind the grandstand where the garages were. “Again, you’ll be escorted by the bodyguards at all times, even if it’s just to go to the suite to watch practices. I think you’d better skip the festivities this year, including the parade. You can go to the 500 Festival parade next year.”

“What about the awards banquet?” I asked.

“I think it’s safe to say that if there are no incidents before then, it’ll be safe to go. After all, you’ll want to see us receive our awards,” Jeff replied.

“Definitely,” I agreed.

“Don’t worry about installing surveillance cameras in the garage and overlooking the garage and pits; I’ll take care of having those installed,” Jeff added. “We’ll use much more sophisticated equipment than what the track already has in place. Also, I’m going to initiate wiretaps on Ms. Shapiro’s phones and her e-mail and social accounts if she has any, which I doubt. I’ll also have all of her accounts watched, including the secret ones she has offshore.”

“How the hell can you do that?” I asked. “Not even the FBI can access an Applazon Phone without the passcode.”

“With the aid of spyware from an Israeli company, there are people that can,” Jeff responded. “Of course, we never had this conversation. There isn’t anything I can’t access in one way or another via our servers.” That was a scary thought. “Also, don’t tell anyone what we’re doing. We don’t want to take a chance on tipping Marjorie Shapiro or anyone else off that we’re taking precautions, and that includes the drivers.”

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I was beginning to think Jeff was being paranoid, but we did exactly as he’d told us to do and as of the Friday night of the Memorial Day weekend, nothing at all had happened. The new sets of wheel assemblies with additional shielding and internal sensors had been delivered and were sitting in crates with tamper-proof locks that would make it obvious if someone tried to open them. We added video cameras and sensors all over the cars with the simple explanation that we wanted to collect data to be used in designing next year’s cars. I replaced all the electronics in both cars and upgraded the software to protect against sabotage.

All of the interior roads, alleyways, fountains and other features at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway bore the names of previous drivers who’d achieved fame. Winning an Indy 500 was one of the epitomes of race-car driving, and it represented a very exclusive club. The winning driver stood to take home a seven-figure prize. Even if it was made to look like an accident, a driver who did anything that threw a race would probably never race again. It would be a career-ending move, and I couldn’t imagine any amount of money to tempt someone to do that. Of course, a threat against family would be another thing entirely, but I would hope a driver would have the good sense to go to the authorities if that ever happened.

I was pretty certain that no amount of money could convince Angie Brae to throw the race. She was on the cusp of history, poised to become the first female driver to win the Indy 500. Janet Guthrie had been the first woman to qualify and drive in the race in 1976. Up until 1971, women weren’t even allowed in the pits. Much had changed since then, but even so, only eleven women had competed in the race, although Sarah Fisher had competed in nine races. Only once had a female driver placed in the race, in 2009 when Danica Patrick came in third. This was already the first time a woman sat in the pole position, and there was a very good chance Angie would win the race this year if no one sabotaged her car. I doubted that Martin Frasier was for sale at any price, either, as he was a career professional and an impeccable driver.

Had we thought about it, we might have realized that Saturday morning was probably the best time for someone intent on sabotage to act because the cars were not nearly as well-protected as they would be on Saturday night and Sunday morning, the day of the race. With a number of 500 Festival activities happening on Saturday, people’s focus wasn’t so much on the race itself. The cars would be garaged all day while the drivers participated in those activities. The day would begin with a memorial service, held at the War Memorial. Indianapolis was the international headquarters of the American Legion, and the Memorial Day holiday was very important to them. Then, people would start to line the parade route, taking seats in one of the grandstands if they were fortunate enough to get tickets.

This year’s grand marshal of the parade was none other than Jeff Barlow himself. Before the announcement of this year’s grand marshal had been made, he’d been planning to ride on Applazon’s float in the parade; instead, he’d be riding in the Grand Marshal pace car just ahead of the float with the Indy 500 princess and her court. The Applazon float would feature Alesia – a giant replica of the Applazon Oracle, the well-known smart speaker, making announcements such as, “The weather for the 2023 Indianapolis 500 is expected to be sunny, with highs in the mid-eighties.” Then that night would be an exclusive black-tie affair known as Off the Grid. Tickets were $325 each, which wasn’t a lot when compared to similar affairs in New York, but Henry and I couldn’t attend at any price as one had to be at least 21. Jeff was going, of course. Applazon had become a major employer in the region, and we were about to open several major factories that would quadruple our investment in the region. Jeff had tried to get the organizing committee to make an exception for us, but the state liquor laws were strictly enforced. Under the circumstances, it was just as well.

Complacent and expecting smooth sailing, Henry and I made love much of Friday evening well into the night and then went to sleep looking forward to our captivity ending very soon. We were startled in the early hours of morning when at alarm sounded on both our phones. “Someone’s in the garage,” I exclaimed.

“Maybe they just had something to check up on,” Henry suggested.

“There’s one way to find out,” I responded as I activated the video on my phone. The images were of poor quality, given the low lighting, but someone dressed all in black was in the garage, back where we kept the tires. I couldn’t see who it was or what they were doing, but I couldn’t think of any legitimate reason someone would be back there other than sabotage. “I’m going to call Jeff to ask him what we should do.”

I got him right away, and he responded with four short words: “I’ll be right over.

Before we even had a chance to think about getting dressed, there was a knock on the door. Henry quickly donned a pair of boxer briefs, and I pulled on a pair of bikini briefs. Checking the peephole first to make sure it really was him, I opened the door to find the executive director of Applazon, dressed in only a bathrobe and slippers.

“Jeff, come in,” I responded.

“Can you cast the video from your phone to the TV?” he asked.

“Probably not, but I can send it to my laptop,” I replied.

“That’s probably better anyway. No one uses better displays on their laptops than we do,” he responded.

Opening my laptop, I sent the video directly to the display, and soon all three of us were watching the images on the screen, both in true color and in infrared false color. “I think what he’s doing is cutting the tires from the inside.” I suggested. “He’s probably using a razor-sharp knife with a depth guide to cut through most of the rubber on the sidewalls. That way, we’re unlikely to notice the cuts, particularly after they’re mounted on the wheels.”

“It would take a really sharp knife to cut through the steel belts but, crap, a sidewall rupture would cause a blowout,” Henry exclaimed.

“He’s probably cutting the rubber close to the wheel, where the belts are at their thinnest,” I explained. “The easiest thing would be to cut radially at several points around each tire, from the inside rim. In some ways that’s even worse, as a blowout where the tire meets the wheel could cause a catastrophic failure in which the wheel shreds the tire. That’s dangerous as hell at 200 miles an hour.”

“It could cause a hell of a pile-up during the race,” Jeff agreed. “It could cause a red flag for sure.” A red flag meant the race would have to be stopped to clean up the debris on the track. My worst fear would be that the car would flip and the driver could be killed. Who in their right mind would take a chance on doing such a thing? Marjorie Shapiro might not have qualms about it, but anyone with access to the garage should know better. They’d have to be pretty desperate and vulnerable to even try.”

“It’s Winslow,” Henry commented. “His mask slipped down, and I recognize the birthmark on his right cheek.”

“Please tell me this thing is keeping a record of the video,” Jeff said.

“It’s being recorded and saved, on- and off-site.” I replied. “Shouldn’t we send security to arrest him?”

“That would risk alerting Shapiro that we’re on to her,” Jeff explained. “The last thing we want to do is trigger some sort of ‘Plan B’.”

“It’s too bad we have to use regulation tires,” I replied. “I have some carbon fiber tires I designed, and this would be a good excuse to try them out.”

“Again, we don’t want to show our hand just yet,” Jeff countered. “The tricky part is that we need to replace those tires without anyone knowing about it. It’s not like we have any to spare. He’s cutting all of them, and sidewall cuts can’t be repaired.”

“Actually, I have a carbon-fiber-reinforced inner tube that would probably prevent a blowout, but it extracts a 10% penalty in increased rolling resistance. We should probably just replace all the tires,” I replied. “I’ll order all new tires and exchange them while everyone else is at the parade.”

“How will you do that without being noticed?” Henry asked.

“I’ll call Firestone directly first thing in the morning and have them bring them in an unmarked delivery truck.” I answered. “We’ll do the exchange inside the garage, out of sight.”

“Just be sure to do it together and with both your bodyguards,” Jeff replied, “and let’s hope Shapiro doesn’t have any other tricks up her sleeve.”

<> <> <>

The exchange of tires went off without a hitch. The track was virtually deserted during the parade, with only the security staff on hand. Henry and I oversaw the operation, with Brian and Lance providing additional security for the two of us. When we inspected the tires that had been sabotaged, our impressions had been correct. All of the tires had been cut with radial cuts from the inner rim. Because the cuts were from the inside, they weren’t visible unless someone was looking for them.

It wasn’t until after the exchange was complete, when we weren’t even paying attention to what was around us, that it happened. As we made our way to the waiting Hummer to ride back to the hotel, a loud crack rang out and Henry went down.

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope and vwl-rec in editing my stories, as well as Awesome Dude and Gay Authors for hosting them.

Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is unintentional. Although it takes place in actual locations, in no way are any official policies, opinions or events inferred. Some characters may be underage and at times engage in homosexual acts. Anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of material where they live. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication in any form.