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Aidy Westlake Mystery #2
In the second of the Aidy Westlake mystery series set in the high-octane world of motor racing – Things are looking good for Aidy Westlake. He’s Pit Lane magazine’s Young Driver of the Year, which has earned him a drive in the European Saloon Car Championship. But his good fortune ends at a race car show when he discovers Jason Gates, a mechanic from a rival team, with his throat cut. The murder sets off a disturbing chain reaction – someone is breaking the rules in the ranks of saloon car racing, on and off the track.
Some people will kill to win.
For the story behind the story, see Traveling Without Moving.
The book is available in paperback, ebook and audio download.
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Chapter 1 – First Lap
I was backstage listening to my new boss, Richard ‘Rags’ Ragsdale, and new teammate, Kurt Haulk, being interviewed. Public speaking wasn’t my forte, but in a couple of minutes, I’d be joining them.
‘Ragged Racing has been the “It” team for several seasons,’ George Easter said. He’d been the voice of motorsport since before I was born. ‘Do you expect that to continue?’
‘All indicators say yes,’ Rags said. ‘The cars are performing well and I have great confidence in my drivers.’
Rags wasn’t wrong. Haulk was fast becoming a saloon-car legend. He was two-time Dutch Touring Car Champion, British Saloon Car Champion, and the current European Saloon Car Champion.
I’d graduated from Formula Ford to the European Saloon Car Championship. The ESCC pitted the likes of the Honda Accord, Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Ford Mondeo against each other. With the engines limited to two litres and power to 300bhp, it kept the racing tight.
Claudia Bernard appeared next to me. Her grin helped alleviate my nerves. She was the media liaison for the ESCC. She was French and typically so, with a self-assuredness that only the French seemed to possess. She was pale, thin and wore her hair in an asymmetric pageboy cut that would have failed on ninety-nine per cent of women.
She leaned in close and whispered in my ear. ‘When you ’ear your name called, you go on.’
Claudia’s English was impeccable, but she suffered from that French trait of not saying her h’s. I found it comforting that she wasn’t entirely perfect.
‘Don’t be nervous. You’ll do great. I ’ave faith in you.’
‘That makes one of us.’
Her grin shone in the backstage gloom.
Today was my great unveiling at the Pit Lane magazine Racecar Show and Exhibition. Held every year at Earls Court, the show drew everyone who had anything to do with motorsport from the fans all the way to the auto giants. Exhibits surrounded the centre stage where interviews played out across the exhibition hall and, in two minutes, I’d be on stage addressing these people.
George Easter’s voice filtered backstage. ‘Speaking of driving talent, I’m very excited to bring a fantastic up-and-coming driver and the new addition to Ragged Racing to the stage.’
Claudia beamed. I wanted to throw up. I hadn’t adapted to the publicity side of my sport yet.
‘Please welcome Pit Lane magazine’s Young Driver of the Year and the son of the late, great Rob Westlake, Aidy Westlake.’
Ah, there it was, that familiar qualifier attached to my name – the son of the late, great Rob Westlake. My dad had climbed the ranks to Formula One, but had died in a car crash with my mum before he ever took part in a grand prix. Since then, my dad had taken on a mystical quality in the racing community. His name came up every time I met someone for the first time. It didn’t rankle me. I loved and admired my father, but it would be nice to be introduced as just me for once.
Claudia held back the blackout curtain and I walked on to the stage. Bright lights hit me in the face and the silhouettes of over a hundred people looked back at me. My inability to see the faces of the audience helped keep my nerves at bay.
All three men stood up as I walked by the Honda Accord I’d be racing next month. I shook their hands and sat down in the remaining chair.
‘Congratulations on becoming Pit Lane magazine’s Young Driver of the Year,’ Easter said.
I’d won the drive courtesy of a driver shootout. Pit Lane had invited six young drivers who’d impressed them last season to take part in a two-day audition. My against-the-odds third place finish in the Formula Ford Festival and World Cup last October had won me the gold ticket invitation. The driver with the best across-the-board scores received a one-year contract with Ragged Racing, ten grand from Pit Lane and a one-year lease on a Honda Accord courtesy of Honda.
‘You knocked off some pretty impressive talent to win the drive.’
I had. I’d beaten the cream of Britain’s young talent.
‘What does it feel like knowing you’ll be driving for the top team in the ESCC?’ Easter asked.
‘A dream come true. It’s going to be great driving for the defending champions.’
Ragged Racing had risen to prominence in the last five years and blown away the competition to take the ESCC drivers’ and manufacturers’ title three years in a row. Last season, they’d dethroned Townsend Motorsport as the official factory-backed team for Honda.
‘Rags, what made you decide on Aidy?’ Easter asked.
‘It wasn’t my sole decision. I took input from Kurt as well as my engineers.’
‘And the stopwatch?’ Easter said and got a laugh.
‘Yes, we’re all slaves to lap times. But we know that a good driver is more than just being quick. Aidy not only put up some fast times, he worked well with the pit crew. I tested the contenders’ mechanical prowess. The team manufactured a mechanical or electrical fault for each driver so we could see what they brought back to the crew. Aidy nailed the fault. That’s the kind of driver I need during the heat of the race. That incisive feedback could be the difference between a result and a DNF.’
‘It looks as if your grandfather taught you well, Aidy,’ Easter said.
My grandfather, Steve, had worked the Formula One pit for Lotus during the sixties and seventies and now ran a classic-sports-car restoration business when he wasn’t helping me. He was well known for his uncanny ability to read a car. ‘He’s a good teacher,’ I said.
‘What I liked was his adaptability,’ Haulk said. ‘Aidy was coming off his first full season in Formula Ford and we put him in a saloon car. He responded well to the instruction I gave him.’
‘So, Kurt, is he the complete package – brains and skill?’
‘I hope not, or my title is in trouble.’
I struggled with this lovefest and blushed. OK, I knew there was a certain amount of grandstanding going on to make the team look good for the public, but wow, Kurt Haulk was complimenting the shit out of me.
‘But seriously,’ Haulk stretched out an arm and patted me on the back. ‘I think Aidy has a lot of potential. This year will be a massive learning curve for him, but I won’t be surprised to see him at the front of the pack.’
‘I bloody hope so,’ Rags said. ‘I can’t afford for him not to do well.’
Rags wasn’t wrong. The budget for my car alone was a quarter of a million. For the first time in my short racing career, there was expectation and all the pressure that came with it. Rags was taking a big chance with me, just out of my rookie year. I was replacing saloon and sports car legend, Tim Reid, who was out of contract and moving on. Over the last twenty-five years, he’d won the 24-hours of Le Mans, the World Touring Car championship, and just about everything else you could win in saloon and sports cars. I hoped I was up for the task.
‘With all this praise flying around, what have you got to say for yourself, Aidy?’
‘It’s all deserved.’
Now, I got a laugh out of the crowd.
‘I love a confident man,’ Rags said.
‘But are you overconfident?’ Easter added.
‘I don’t think so. I’m very excited by the opportunity and the faith in me shown by Rags and the team. I’m going to do my best to win.’
‘After me, you can be first,’ Haulk said.
‘Not if I can help it,’ I fired back with a smile.
A collective ‘Oh’ rose from the crowd.
‘It’s looks as if you’re going to have your hands full with these guys.’
‘I like to think they’re going to have their hands full with me,’ Rags said.
The interview was going really well and actual enjoyment seeped into me. I looked over to the side of the stage where Steve and my best friend, Dylan, stood. Dylan flashed me a thumbs-up and Steve beamed at me. They couldn’t be more proud of me.
‘What would your dad say if he were here today?’ Easter asked me.
‘He’d want to know why the bloody hell I was driving tin tops and not sticking to single seaters.’
Dad was a purest. His interest began and ended with formula cars. Me, I was more like my racing hero, Jim Clark. He was a double Formula One champion, but he’d driven everything – sports cars, saloon cars, Nascar, and even rally cars. While my dream was to reach Formula One, I’d drive anything.
Easter hit me with a couple more questions and eventually wrapped up the interview. The crowd applauded and Easter went down the line shaking everyone’s hand. When he reached me, he said, ‘I’m looking forward to keeping up with your progress. If you can emulate your old man, you’ll go far.’
‘Let’s hope so.’
Rags dropped an arm over my shoulder. ‘Nicely done.’
We all filed off the stage. Claudia was there to welcome us.
‘You did very well, gentlemen. Performances like that make my job very easy.’
As I went to pass, Claudia hooked an arm in mine and guided me away from the others. ‘Aidy, can I ’ave a second? Your story and the Westlake name ’ave a lot of media potential. I want you to be the face of the championship this year. You represent the next generation in this sport.’ She grinned at me. ‘Expect to be at my beck and call.’
I didn’t know if should read something into that last remark. I can read a track I’ve never seen before, but I’m clueless when it comes to women. She pulled out her mobile, punched a number into it and disappeared before I could find out.
Steve and Dylan walked up to me.
Dylan grabbed me in a bear hug and since he’s a foot taller and four stone heavier than me, he lifted me off the ground. ‘I knew this would happen. I’m so pleased for you, mate.’
‘Put him down,’ Steve said.
Dylan released me and I straightened my clothes.
‘I think Madame Touchy-Feely likes you,’ Dylan said.
‘She’s not married, so that would make her Mademoiselle Touchy-Feely.’
‘Pardon my French.’
‘Ignore him,’ Steve said. ‘You did well up there.’
‘You didn’t make a tit of yourself,’ Dylan said.
‘Just trying to keep you grounded before you forget who your real friends are.’
‘You got time to wander through the exhibition?’ Steve asked.
‘No. I’m booked solid with one publicity thing or another. I’ll be back at the ESCC stand later this afternoon. I can talk then.’
I saw the disappointment on Steve and Dylan’s faces. This was a bittersweet moment. Up until now, they’d been there for every part of my racing career, from karts to Formula Ford last season. It had seemed as if we’d always be a team, but after one season, I was leaving them behind. Growing up. Moving on. As much as the upcoming season was going to be a full and fun one, I could see it being a lonely one.
‘Go do your thing and we’ll see you at home,’ Steve said.
I left the guys and headed for the exit. Next up for me was a private luncheon with Honda at an Italian restaurant a few streets from the exhibition hall. As I reached the main concourse, I was walking towards Brian DeYoung and Chloe Mercer who were coming the other way. They were the Brad and Angelina of motorsport. Brian was tipped to have a ride with Lotus F1 next season and Chloe was the top female driver in European motorsport. She’d been the only female driver in the Pit Lane driver shootout last November.
I put out my hand and said, ‘Hey, Chloe.’
They ignored me and kept walking.
‘Ouch,’ someone said from behind me.
I turned. My predecessor, Tim Reid, was standing there. I hadn’t seen him since the shootout either. Like Haulk, he’d put me through my paces during the competition.
‘That was awkward,’ Reid said. ‘I guess not everyone is excited about your success.’
I glanced over at Brian and Chloe, who were striding away through the crowd. ‘It sure looks that way.’
‘She really thought she had the shootout in the bag,’ Reid said. ‘But not everyone is like her. I’m so pleased for you.’
‘Thanks. How are you set this season?’
‘I’ve got some very interesting offers on the table.’
‘Enough of that,’ Rags said, appearing behind me with Haulk in tow. ‘You’re back on the clock, my boy.’
The rest of the day descended into a blur of meetings, interviews and greeting the public at the ESCC exhibit. The day’s highlight was the head of marketing for Honda presenting me with my privately leased Accord. It would have been even sweeter if I got to keep the car and not hand it back Cinderella-style in twelve months. Up until now, I’d been underwriting most of my racing costs, which meant sacrificing luxuries like home ownership, holidays and a personal vehicle. If I needed a car, I either borrowed Steve’s much-cherished Capri RS2600 or his Transit van. Tonight, I’d be driving home instead of taking the train back to Windsor.
The day ended with a team dinner that stretched into the night. Rags told us to enjoy it up because after tonight it was work, work, work. By the time he settled the bill, it was after ten p.m. Everyone headed back to their hotels and I walked back to Earls Court to collect my new car. I could have stayed at a hotel, but with Windsor so close, I preferred to spend the night in my own bed. The European season was going to keep me away from home a lot over the next six months.
I walked past my car and stopped in front of the massive Ragged Racing transporter. It was big enough to hold two cars. A larger-than-life representation of the Honda Accord covered each side of the trailer in full racing colours. Painted on the rear door were two names – Kurt Haulk’s and mine. I choked up at the sight of my own name. The drive was real. Not a fairytale. I didn’t give a shit what Chloe Mercer thought. I deserved this.
The big question was where it would all lead. A good showing could result in a renewed contract or a contract with a different team. If I wanted to realize my dream of following my father into grand prix racing then I couldn’t afford to dawdle too long in tin tops. I’d be turning twenty-two in April and I was already behind in the age stakes with my peers. Chloe had two seasons on me and was a year younger than me. If I worked this opportunity to my advantage, I could use it to land a Formula Renault or Formula Three drive next season. It was all pie in the sky stuff, but it looked pretty delicious from where I was standing.
I reached up and touched my name on the transporter. I closed my eyes and said, ‘Please be a good year.’
The sound of choking snapped me from my moment. A rush of embarrassment washed over me at my display and I jerked my hand away.
A scrape of heels drew my gaze downward to an outstretched leg sticking out from under the rear of the transporter. It kicked at the ground but the person it belonged to never got to their feet. The sound of the choking intensified.
‘Hey, are you OK?’
A gurgling that turned my stomach came as a reply.
I ran to the rear of the transporter. A man lay on his back, clutching his throat. Street lights caught the steady stream of blood leaking from his fingers.
‘Jesus Christ,’ I murmured.
I dropped to my knees at the guy’s side. I did my best to ignore the stark contrast between the cold asphalt and the man’s warm blood seeping through my chinos.
‘It’s going to be OK,’ I said, believing my words until I saw the source of the man’s bleeding. Someone had cut his throat. A combination of blood and air bubbled up from the ugly and efficient wound.
I didn’t know what to do. Apply pressure? Not apply pressure? I tried to pull his hands away, but he fought me.
‘Let me help.’ I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket and pressed it against the gash. I felt his blood and breath through the cotton.
He fixed me with a stare that turned my heart to stone in my chest. The fear in his eyes terrified me. He was on the edge of death and he was willing me to save him.
He tried to speak, but only a distorted gurgle made it out.
‘Don’t speak. Save your strength.’
Pointless words for a pointless situation.
‘Help!’ I yelled. ‘I need help here. Please help.’
The sound of a single pair of feet striking the asphalt like a thunderclap split the night-time silence. The dying man swung an arm in the direction of the receding footfalls and pointed. I whipped my head around and saw no one.
‘Help,’ I yelled again, so loud my single plea burned my throat. Where the fuck was security?
I removed a hand, reached inside my pocket and pulled my mobile out. My bloody fingers slipped on the buttons, but I pressed nine-nine-nine.
By the time someone answered the phone and asked me the nature of my emergency, security guards were swarming towards us and the man was dead.
“Watch Aidy get into one jam after the next.”
"High octane thrills all the way, with an especially exciting grand finale!”
— Book 'Em Mysteries
"You can't stop reading.”
“Racing scenes enliven the action as Aidy tries to extricate himself from trouble by trapping a killer.”
— Publishers Weekly