The Tracker by Don Lee

“Snow’s comin’,” the tracker mumbled to himself.  The eastern ridgeline, set clear in the distance an hour ago, had become blurry.  The gray canopy dropped low enough to touch.  It was mid-April.  The late-season storm would bring a cold rain to the North Carolina valley below, but here just off the Appalachian Trail at four thousand feet, it would be a heavy wet snow.

The tracker hurried his pace.  He was close, but had to make up the remaining ground before the snowfall covered those telltale signs he was looking for.  The occasional heelprint.  Broken twigs.  Crumbled leaves. 

He’d been tracking Henry Windsor for four hours, since dawn.  That numbnut from New York City decided to go off the trail three days’ prior and got himself lost.  It was national news.  Not that a person got lost.  That happens with some regularity.  It was national news because it was Henry Windsor. 

His father, Stewart Windsor, was a hedge fund titan.  Made billions last year shorting silver.  In the process, he wiped out another hedge fund manager on the opposite side of the trade.  The poor sap was so devastated he killed himself, leaving the sap’s son in charge of what was left of the rival fund.  The son proved to be a much better manager than his father.  One of the best.  Stewart thought it was because the experience toughened him up.  Made a man out of him.    

Likewise, Stewart wanted to make a man out of Henry.  Get him in the Wall Street trenches.  So he hired his son as an analyst fresh out of college.  Stewart wanted his son to learn the business from the ground up, and eventually run the hedge fund.  But Henry was a millennial.  He wanted different things out of life, so he quit the fund after a month to walk the trail from Georgia to Maine.  “Going off the grid,” Henry said when explaining his plans.  It was an indulgence available only to the very rich and the hippies.  Everyone else, including the tracker, had bills to pay. 

Before beginning his journey, Henry’s mother made him promise to call home once a day to let her know everything was ok.  He did just that for the first three weeks, walking into various mountain towns to make the daily call.  But on day twenty-two, there was no phone call.  Now it was day twenty-five and still nobody had heard from young Henry.  Time was running out.

The tracker’s phone rang the night before.  It was the captain of industry himself, Stewart Windsor, offering the tracker fifty thousand dollars if he could bring his son home alive.  “Why you callin’ me and not some other fella?” the tracker asked. 

“Because I hear you’re the best in North Carolina.”

“How you know that?”  The tracker was genuinely curious.  He was the best at what he did, but kept a low profile and didn’t know how the hell someone living in New York City would ever know about him.

“On Wall Street, you don’t get to be the best unless you’re the most well-informed.”

The tracker would come to find out just how true that was.    

As the snow began to fall, the tracker was fairly certain he found who he was looking for.  Slumped against the trunk of a fallen tree was a young man, dirty, disheveled and wearing a jacket with a patch on the arm that read “Canada Goose.”  The tracker poked his chest with a stick and the young man came to with a start.

“You Henry?” the tracker asked.

“Yes.  Oh thank god!  You found me!”

“Let me help you up,” the tracker said.

“I’m sure my father is offering a reward for whoever finds me.  You’re going to be richly rewarded.”

“Oh, you right about that.  He payin’ fifty thousand,” the tracker replied as he extended his hand to Henry.  As Henry began to pull himself up, the tracker’s other hand – the one holding a stone – crashed into Henry’s temple, knocking him out cold.  “But the man who says your pa killed his pa,” the tracker continued, “is paying me double to make sure you’re never seen alive again.”  

Race Whatcha Got by Don Lee

Tucker Shelby entered the county jail for one last piece of business client with his client, Johnny Hubbard.  Johnny was getting released and Tucker was there to fill out some forms.  “Johnny, you get yourself in any more trouble, don’t bother calling.  You can’t afford me.”

Johnny just sat there, silent and stone-faced.  Two years ago, he got caught red-handed driving a stolen car down I-75 toward Atlanta.  Headed to a chop shop but didn’t make it.  Got busted 30 minutes in.  Damn LoJack.

Johnny told Mama Jo he’d go with the public defender.  But Mama Jo wasn’t hearing it.  She wanted Johnny to have the best legal defense possible.  And who better than Tucker Shelby?

With Tucker, it was always about the money.  Mama Jo and Johnny were jobless and flat broke.  But she owned a clapboard house and the 10-acre lot on which it sat, free and clear.  Been in her family for three generations.  She got a $25,000 loan from the bank, putting up the land and house as collateral.

Johnny pleaded with Mama Jo not to do it, but she paid him no mind.  Like Johnny expected, Tucker proved as worthless as tits on a bull.  The prosecution had him nailed and he was convicted after 30 minutes of jury deliberation.  Johnny wasn’t mad about the outcome, he was mad about the fee.  “Why’d you charge Mama Jo $25,000?” he asked.  “Because that’s all the bank would lend her,” was the response.

Tucker bought cars with the fees he charged.  His pride and joy was a 1997 BMW 8 Series with a V12 that he called Clarabelle.  “Too pretty to drive for just any old reason,” Tucker told Johnny before the trial.  “I save Clarabelle for special occasions.”

Snapping back to the present as his lawyer drove away without him in a Ford SUV, Johnny realized his release must not have been one of those special occasions.  Johnny wasn’t looking forward to getting out.  It was a cold and uncertain world.  A world where Mama Jo drank herself to death after the bank foreclosed on her.  Prison was different.  It offered stability and dignity.  He was a trustee.  Did fluid checks in the motor pool.  Got things accomplished.

Deputy Tiller drove Johnny over to the Ridgeway Motor Lodge.  It was where the indigents stayed after getting their release.  The place was a dump, but no matter.  He wouldn’t be staying there long.

Saturday morning, Johnny walked three miles to Tucker’s house.  Hidden away in the tree line, he saw Tucker walk to the garage with a bag of golf clubs.  Johnny hoped golf wasn’t a special occasion for Tucker.  It wasn’t.  Clarabelle stayed behind while he left in the same SUV.

Johnny walked to the garage and busted a window.  Inside, he gazed down appreciatively at Clarabelle.  She was a beauty.  Johnny popped the lock with a Slim Jim and hotwired the ignition.  He figured Clarabelle had LoJack and he was ok with that.

An hour later, Johnny pulled up to the North Georgia Speedway.  After the sanctioned events there was a “Race Whatcha Got” free-for-all at the end of the evening.  $20 got anybody who wanted it 10 laps of racing.  As Johnny gave him the money, the proprietor asked, “This is a damn nice car.  You sure you wanna race this thing?”

“Oh yessir,” Johnny replied.

Johnny started on the 4th row.  After 5 laps, Johnny was out front.  Clarabelle ran like a scalded dog.  At 7 laps, he saw the flashing lights of Deputy Tiller’s cruiser where the participants entered the speedway.  At 8 laps, Johnny saw Tucker beside the deputy, flapping his arms.

At 9 laps, Johnny let Clarabelle get a little loose in the corner and sparks flew from her right side as she made contact with the wall.  Johnny overcorrected and rear-ended a lapped car.  Steam spewed from Clarabelle’s crumpled hood as she sputtered across the finish line.

“You son of a bitch!  You totaled Clarabelle!” Tucker shouted.

“Not totaled,” Johnny replied smiling as Deputy Teller led him away in cuffs, “just dinged up a bit.  twenty-five grand should cover it.”