This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any actual resemblance to persons or historical persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Hooper characters, settings, locales, ect. are owned by other entities who have not endorsed this fic nor have they given express permission for the character's use. Author makes not claims to these characters and is not making any profit from their use.

All original characters are the property of the author.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the author or any legally assigned agents of the author.

Copyright: 2001-2004. Lisa Philbrick

*******

The director called for action and the Trans Am screamed through the infield. A short stunt to be part of a series of quick shots the director wanted to piece together, Leeah simply was to flip the car over. The Trans Am hit the ramp with it’s passenger side wheels and Leeah turned the steering wheel, basically pulling the rug out from under the car. The car tipped on it’s roof and slid a few feet before coming to stop.

“CUT! Another one bites the dust.” The director grinned.

Sonny, Cully and Ski ran over to the Trans Am to help Leeah out.

“Ya’ll right in there?” Sonny asked.

“Yeah,” Leeah replied. It didn’t sound like she was. “Dammit...”

“What’s wrong?” Cully said.

“Just git me outta here...”

Ski ran around to the passenger window and crawled in to help Leeah out of the harnesses and seatbelts. After a few moments, they got her out of the harness and she carefully crawled out of the window of the car. She threw her stunt helmet off and then rubbed the side of her upper thigh and hip.

“Didja hurt it bad?” Cully asked.

“Oh, I’ll be alright in a minute...you’d think I’d know better. I shoulda turned the car the other way.”

“Ya hit the arm rest didn’t ya?”

Leeah nodded. “I’ve done it before...I’ll probably do it again. Look, help me up so we’re not causing a scene here.”

Sonny and Cully helped Leeah to stand up and the stunt woman hesitantly put weight on her left leg.

“If it’s hurtin’ bad, Cully here might have something to fix ya up with,” Sonny said.

“No, no,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ll be alright.” She remained leaning on both Sonny and Cully as David Peters walked over with the director.

“Well done, Leeah,” the director said.

“Thanks.” She looked at David. “Listen, I want to thank you for the bail and all and I apologize for last night. It’s not every day I’m thrown in jail.”

“It’s okay, Leeah. You said on the phone last night that you were being...chased?”

“Yeah, my ex-boyfriend. When the cops showed up, he disappeared down a side road so I pulled over to tell them what was going on. I mean, I wasn’t purposely breakin’ the law! If I had been, you’d think I’d pull over for the hell of it? And they toss me in the clink for trying to save my ass. Sheesh!”

“Could this ex be a problem? I mean, for your safety, not just your ability to work.”

Leeah shook her head. “He’s just pissed cuz I dumped him. I wasn’t gonna just stand there so he could beat the ---” she stoped short. “No, he’s not gonna be a problem. I can still do my work.”

David nodded. “All right.” He then looked at Sonny and Cully. “Make sure she’s okay for this afternoon, okay fellas?”

“We will,” Cully said with Sonny nodding.

David turned and Sonny and Cully started to walk Leeah across the infield towards her trailer.

“Maybe you oughta go to the doctor,” Cully said.

Leeah shook her head. “Every time I go to him he tells me the same crap and charges me both arms and both legs to shoot me up with something I can’t even pronounce.”

“Well, Cully’s got something that’ll work just as good and it’s pronounceable,” Sonny said.

“No, I got something at my trailer. Just get me there okay?”

“Alright.”

Sonny and Cully got Leeah to her trailer and Ski came from beind them and opened the door. Leeah limped her way inside and collapsed onto the half size couch.

“Up in the cabinet there,” she said to Cully, pointing to the cabinet near him. “My own med kit.”

Cully opened the door and found the kit. He took it out and turned back to Leeah, handing it to her.

“Can you do it okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Go on, I’ll be out in a minute.”

Cully and Sonny stepped out of the trailer and Cully pulled the door closed. Ski looked at them.

“She okay?”

“We’ll find out in a minute,” Sonny said.

“I still think she should go to the doc,” Cully said.

“You always say that. You’ve said that to me about a million times over the years,” Sonny said.

“Yeah, and if you hadn’t gone, you wouldn’t be standing here now that’s for damn sure.”

Sonny paused and then nodded. It was true... “All right look, if she’s still hurtin’ when she gets out here, take her to the doc. We’ll tell her I told you to and that if she doesn’t go, she’s fired.”

Cully nodded.

A few minutes later, the door to the trailer opened and Leeah smiled at the boys. “There, good as new.” She stepped out of the trailer with no noticable limp.

“You sure you’re okay?” Cully asked.

“I’m fine. Cully, I’ve done this before and I got my own special thing for fixing it. I’m okay, just as long as I don’t hit again today.”

Cully was ready to protest, and suggest a trip to the doctors but stopped when Sonny grabbed his arm.

“Alright then,” Sonny said. “The next stunt’s this afternoon. You going to be ready for it?”

Leeah nodded. “Sure will.”

She was ready, but by that time the pain killer had worn off and Cully noticed how she limped slightly to the Trans Am. The car had been sitting in the sun all day and Leeah took a moment to enjoy the thearputic warmth of the seat once she got in. She took a deep breath and looked up to see Cully watching her with a concerned look on his face. Leeah quickly looked away, started the car and got into position for the stunt, a short ramp to ramp jump. As soon as she finished the stunt, Cully was the first one to the car to make sure she was alright.

Leeah accepted his hand to help her out of the car and looked up at him long enough for him to see her eyes were dilated. How often had he seen Sonny’s eyes like that? Heck, how often had his own eyes been like that?

“You alright?” he asked.

Leeah glared at him. “That must be your favorite god damn question,” she snapped.

“Sorry,” he said and looked away from her.

She gave him one final disgusted look and walked off.

“Good job, Leeah,” Ski said as he approached.

“Thanks, Ski,” Leeah replied, brushing right past. Even Ski heard the difference in her voice. He stopped next to Cully.

“What’s got into her?”

Cully shook his head. “I dunno...”

Ski shrugged and turned to watch her. She was limping, that was for sure. “Maybe it’s whatever that pain killer was she took.”

“Maybe.” Cully looked up to see her too. “It’s worn off by now.”

“Lot of good a pain killer does when it’s just going to wear off,” Ski observed.

Cully looked at the Kid. What the hell did he know? He had yet to break his back, arms, legs or anything else important. When the day came that any of that happened, then he would understand.

“Tell ya what. When you break or bruise something a few times, let me know if you still believe that. Because then you’ll know the secret that stuntmen have been trying to figure out forever.” Cully walked off, irritated. He knew that Ski's remark was just a youthful, off-the-cuff clip and hadn't been disigned to annoy him. But it did. Cully walked towards his trailer, his thoughts turning to Leeah. She was hurt but hanging tough, just like any stuntman was supposed to do. So why can't I leave her alone? He couldn't stop himself from changing direction and walking towards Leeah's trailer. He made a beeline for it, almost against his will. The metal trailer steps creaked under his weight, announcing his arrival before he knocked on the door.

"Leeah?" he said through the door when it took her too long to answer. He knocked a little harder. "Leeah!"

He was thinking of kicking down the door when it finally opened. "Now what?" Leeah said sharply. Cully shifted his posture uncomfortably, feeling like a complete fool. His concern was neither welcome or needed, by the looks of it. "I was gonna ask if you wanted any lunch," he said with apology. "Sorry I bothered ya, I'll just -"

“No, no...” She reached out and grabbed Cully’s arm before he turned away completely. She paused a moment and then said, “I’m sorry, Cully. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

He turned to look at her, his expression apologetic and forgiving all at once. “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s that pain killer ya took ain’t it?”

Leeah nodded. “It does wonders for a few hours, but when it wears off I’m just an absolute witch with a capital B.” She paused, glancing back in her tailer where she had started to fix herself some lunch. “Um...listen, I was starting to fix something here for lunch...you wanna join me?”

Cully grinned. “I dunno...You’re not gonna be witchy any more are ya?”

Leeah playfully scowled at him. “Grrrr...” She then chuckled. “No, I think I’ll be alright. Come on.” She stepped back into the trailer and let Cully inside. He looked at her bulliten board again, more closely this time. James Garner was still promently in the middle and surrounding him were several smaller Kodak snapshots. Leeah was in a couple of them, standing with a group of folks, clowning for the camera.

She takes a nice picture...

“Those were taken just before I came out here,” Leeah explained, standing next to him. “That’s my cousin, my brother and my best friend from highschool.” She pointed to each person. “The Four Muskateers, we were.”

“Do you still keep in touch with them?”

“Yup. I try to get a letter home every week or so. My brother says they’re keeping a tally on how many bones I’ve broken since I’ve been here.”

“Which is none, right?” Cully snickered.

“Right! Nary a scratch.” She giggled and turned towards the kitchenette. “Actually I’ve had fewer bumps and bruises doin’ stunt work here than I did doin’ the shows. Then again, the cars I’ve been driving here are better customized for stunt work.” She looked at Cully. “I used to do like you said before. Get in the car and drive.”

“I doubt you were loaded on whiskey when you did it,” Cully said as he took a seat on the half size sofa.

“Nope. Bourbon.”

“Hooo...”

“Yeah. Hated the stuff because I always got sick afterwards.” Leeah shook her head. “I’ve never handled alcohol very well. That’s why I don’t drink much of even beer. There was one time I got really wasted and I don’t remember a thing. Luckily my cousin was with me and nothing happened but she was like, ‘you had no idea where you were.’ And to this day I don’t remember where I was, only that I was at a party one minute and woke up at home the next. Only that next minute was about 12 hours later.” She shook her head again. “I’ll never do that again.”

Cully nodded silently. He too had had a few blackouts like that, and the last one was about 15 years ago. Cully liked his beer, but he knew his limit. When he couldn’t feel the pain anymore, that was his limit.

“So...what do you do when your limbs are hurtin’?”

“Grin and bear it. Unless it hurts more to grin, then I use that stuff in the cupboard there.” She paused and looked at Cully as he glanced up at the cupboard. “Is that why you drink a lot?” The question was asked with caution.

Cully looked at her, somewhat surprised. Nobody had cared about his drinking habits before. “It helps wipe out the pain for a little while,” he said. “If it didn’t a shot of xylocaine would do the trick.”

Leeah nodded. Remembering what Gwen had said about Cully having been married, she couldn’t help but wonder if drinking wiped out some other pain too. “I try not to use that stuff there too much.” She pointed towards the cupboard. “Good ol’ Ibuprofen will usually help.” She looked at the two sandwiches on the counter top. “You want lettuce with your tuna fish? Actually I should probably ask if you like tuna fish first.”

Cully grinned. “That’ll be fine. And lettuce is fine too.”

“Alright.” Leeah set the counter top for lunch for two. Her culinary skills were basic. Tuna fish sandwiches with chips served on paper plates with bottles of Coca Cola

And Cully loved it.

By the time they finished eating, Leeah’s sour mood of ealier was now long forgotten. They swapped their funny stories and tales of near misses with stunt driving, Leeah talked a little about her time on the racing circuit and Cully did a little of his Jimmy Stewart impression, which got Leeah giggling.

The signal that it was time to get back to work came with the knock at Leeah’s trailer door.

“Hey Leeah?” Sonny called. “Have you seen Cully? He’s not at the trailer.”

Leeah looked at Cully and grinned. Cully blushed a little, knowing Sonny was going to have a comment or two about this. He gave Leeah a look just before she walked over to open the door.

“He’s right here, Sonny.”

Pleasant surprise lit up in Sonny’s eyes. “He is?”

“Yeah, we just finished lunch. Guess we gotta go back to work huh?”

Cully came to the door and looked at Sonny from behind Leeah. It was a warning, which Sonny ignored and gave his best friend the widest grin possible. “Well, no, but I’d sure have a tough time trying to explain to David why the star stunt lady wanted to take a long lunch.”

“We’ll be right there,” Cully said. Damn he’s so embarassing.

Sonny nodded. “Take yer time. We gotta set up first anyway.” He smiled and turned towards the track.

Leeah heard Cully give a frustrated sigh and she turned to him.

“What’s wrong?”

Cully shook his head. “Nothing.” He hid his disgust with Sonny and showed Leeah a pleasant look. “Listen, I enjoyed lunch.”

Leeah smiled. “I did too. If you ever have a craving for tuna fish, this is the place.”

Cully nodded and grinned. He ignored the embarrassing thought that that wasn’t all he was craving, silently scolded himself for it and looked Leeah in the the eyes for a moment. It was a moment too long and as soon as Cully realized he liked what he saw, he awkwardly looked away.

“Um, I’ll see ya on the track in a few minutes?”

“Yeah.” Leeah had felt it too. There was something about him, something she really liked. Those blue eyes...

As Cully stepped around her and out the door, Leeah watched him. He wasn’t hurrying in his step so that meant he wasn’t running way, right?

What the hell is this, Jr. High? Leeah gently closed the door of the trailer and went about getting ready for the afternoon’s stunt work.

*** ***** ***

When she got to the track, she waited with Cully by the grand stand while Sonny went to see if the other stunt driver, Jack, was ready for the next gag.

“How long were you on the NASCAR circuit?” Cully asked, not allowing any awkward silence prevail.

“Twelve years.”

“Didja win a lot of races?”

Leeah grinned. “Sure did. Won three championships too.”

Cully looked impressed. “Yeah?” His brow then creased in question. “How come I ain’t heard of ya?”

Leeah smiled. “I wasn’t in the Grand National league, which is probably what you’re thinking. Richard Petty, Donnie Allison, Cale Yarborough and all of them. I was in the ranks just below that. Did some ASA short track racing for awhile too. I wanted to get into the Grand National ranks really bad but...” she shrugged. “There ain’t no place for a woman in that. I was a good driver, damn good driver...but no team wanted a woman driver, even a three time champion. So, I got out of it. I had done a little stunt show driving on the side and a friend suggested I try being a Hollywood stunt driver.” She put her hands out. “Here I am.”

“Ya liked racing, didn’t ya?”

“I did, I liked it very much. That’s why I love working on this picture, and I can’t wait to do the racing stuff in another week or so. That’s gonna be the best part.”

“Well, Sonny and I are having fun watching you do all the ‘stunt’ stunt driving.”

Leeah grinned. “I’m having fun doing it. And I’m having fun working with you guys.”

“Nothing’s ever boring with Sonny Hooper that’s for sure!” Cully looked up in time to see Sonny walking over to them. “Speak o’ the devil.”

“Bad news,” Sonny said. “Jack just called. He’s sick as a dog and ain’t gonna be able to drive the stunt today.”

“Oh man,” Leeah said. “We don’t have anyone else who could do it, do we?”

“Well...” Sonny glanced at Cully. “I suppose Cully here could do it. But you and Jack have practiced it. I don’t know if the director is gonna give y’all a chance to rehearse it first.”

Leeah looked at Cully. “Wanna give it a go?”

Cully turned and looked at the cream colored El Camino, the track and the ramp that would turn the car up on two wheels. He then nodded thoughtfully.

“Yeah.” He looked at Sonny. “As long as Leeah here promises not to fall off the car.”

Leeah laughed. “Let’s see what we can do.” She grabbed his arm and they walked down to the track. Sonny watched them and chuckled. He then went to tell David and the director what was going on.

*** **** ***

Cully had the hood of the El Camino up and was inspecting the engine. Leeah was at the back of the car, checking that the tailgate was secure when the hand held radio on the passenger seat squaked to life.

“Leeah? Cully? The director wants to know if you guys can do this in one run?” Sonny asked.

Cully came out from under the hood and leaned into the passenger window to grab the radio. He handed it to Leeah, who was walking to him.

“To be honest, I don’t know,” Leeah replied into the radio. “I think we should do a slow run so Cully knows exactly what I’m gonna be doin’ on this car and when.”

“How slow?” It was the director’s voice now.

“Well, I’d like to just do a dry run without hitting the ramp. I mean, doing the ramp is a one shot deal anyways, but Cully hasn’t been the one practicing this stunt. I think for a safety reason it would be best to do a run through with out the ramp. You can have the camera truck follow us, you might get a couple of good shots with that. But you’re the director, it’s up to you.”

There was a moment of quiet and then the director came back. “Okay, go ahead and do the practice run. I’m going to have the camera truck follow you though.”

“Okay, that’s fine. Give us a second to set up and I’ll let ya know when we’re ready.”

“Okay.”

Leeah handed the radio to Cully who tossed it onto the passenger seat.

“Okay,” she said as she walked around the front of the car with Cully following her. “As we go around the track, I’m going to be climbing all over this thing, posing on the hood, ect.”

Cully grinned.

“I’ll then get in the back as you’re heading for the ramp. When you get this thing up on two wheels, I’ll stand on the door, holding on to this,” she grabbed the heavy duty climber’s strap that was hanging out the window and was attatched to the bottom of the driver seat. “When the car starts to come back down to all four, I’m gonna jump off. You keep on going, ‘k?”

Cully nodded. “I can handle that.”

Leeah smiled. “I know ya can. Come on, let’s give ‘em a show.”

Sonny, David and the director watched as Cully and Leeah got into the El Camino. The radio in Sonny’s hand crackled to life.

“We’re ready here,” Cully said.

Sonny looked at the director, who nodded. “Ten-four,” Sonny replied.

The director looked towards his camera man. “Follow them. I know it’s a practice run, but I might be able to use the footage.”

The camera man nodded.

“Alright everybody! This is just a practice run.” He looked at Sonny and nodded.

Sonny raised the radio. “Go head, Cully.”

The El Camino started to move with the cameras following it. Leeah climbed out the passenger window and sat a moment to wave to the make believe crowd. She then slid gracefully out the window and climbed up onto the roof of the car. She sat, still facing the crowd, smiling. She waited for the Chevy to start to go into the turn and she turned and placed her feet on the hood, her legs covering the passenger side of the windshield. As Cully went around the turn, Leeah came down to sit on the hood, resting her back against the windshield. She folded her hands behind her head, as if relaxing in the sun on a beach.

Just before Cully came out of the turn, Leeah got to her hands and knees on the hood, looking like a tigeress. She turned to Cully and smiled. She could feel her face flush but she continued with what she had to do according to the script. She softly kissed the tips of her fingers on her right hand and then lightly touched the windshield.

Cully jerked the steering wheel slightly, surprised by gesture. He reminded himself it was in the script, but still.... He smiled up at her, trying to hide his embarassment and Leeah climbed up onto the roof of the Chevy on her way to the payload. Once she was out of sight, Cully took a deep breath trying to stop the fluttering feeling in his heart.

Leeah was in back now as the El Camino cruised on the straight away. She had a foot on the edge of the truck bed and leaned on the roof of the car. She reached for the strap and grabbed it.

“At this point you’d be heading for the ramp. You feel comfortable enough to go around and do it at speed?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. I’ll be right back in!”

Cully glanced in the rearview mirror as Leeah moved to the other side of the truck bed. After a moment she was sliding through the passenger window. She picked up the radio.

“Keep your cameras rolling. Cully and I are gonna go for broke.”

“Okay.”

The Chevy picked up speed and Cully brought the car around turns three and four and the camera truck followed.

Leeah repeated everything as before, including the playful kiss of fingertips to the windshield. Cully watched her, their eyes meeting for a moment before Leeah smiled and climbed over the roof to the bed of the truck.

Cully forced himself to concentrate on the driving at hand. Why did he feel so awkward all of a sudden? He shook the feeling away and focused on the ramp up ahead.

Leeah was in position just behind him.

“Be careful!” he called.

“I will, just keep it up on two wheels for as long as you can!”

“You got it!” Cully pushed down on the accelerator and aimed for the ramp. Leeah kneaded the strap in her leather gloved hands and watched as the ramp came closer.

The car went up on two wheels without incident. Leeah planted one foot on the reinforced door handle, the other on a special small platform placed at the side of the door. She gripped the strap and held on for a perfectly executed ride.

“Okay, Cully, bring it down!”

Cully tapped the brake and the Chevy started to come down. Leeah let go of the strap and jumped off the door of the car.

He saw her hit the ground in his side mirror. She rolled a couple of times and then he heard the director yell “CUT!” in the distance. He swung the El Camino around and raced back to where Leeah was slowly getting to her knees.

“Leeah, you all right?!” he asked as he jumped out of the car. Leeah smiled up at him as he kneeled down beside her.

“I’m fine! Cully, that was great!” She threw her arms around him in a victory hug.

“Uhh...” Cully was caught off guard and awkwardly returned the embrace. “Ijit, uh..yeah it was really good, Leeah. You sure you’re all right?”

“Oh Cully!” Leeah scolded playfully and looked at him. “I’m fine! I’ve got enough padding on here to protect six dozen eggs. I didn’t hit the ground that hard. You did fabulous driving!” She clutched his arm, clearly exhuberated by the successful completion of the stunt. The rest of the crew were gathering around congratulating them on the stunt.

“Terrific! Hot damn that was just incredible!” the director called as he jogged to the two stunt people. Sonny was just behind him, smiling.

Leeah stood up with Cully. “That’s always been one of my favorite stunts, riding on the door like that.”

“Figures one of the more dangerous would be your favorite,” Sonny said.

Leeah grinned.

The director laughed. “Well, you both did an excellent job.”

“Thanks,” Leeah said as Cully gave a nod.

“Okay folks, that’s it for today. Be here bright an’ early tomorrow.” As everyone began to disperse, Sonny looked at Leeah.

“Nice job, Leeah.”

“Thanks, Sonny. Listen, fellas, I’m go git out of this stunt suit and cut out. I promised a friend I’d take her to a doctors appointment this afternoon. I’ll see ya later!”

Sonny and Cully watched her jog across the infield. Sonny then looked at Cully.

“That was some good driving, Cully.”

“Thanks.”

Sonny studied the older stuntman’s profile. “You all right?”

"What?--” Cully looked at Sonny. “Oh I’m fine...” he shook it off quick and smiled. “I’m great! Damn great stunt huh?”

“Cully...”

Cully knew Sonny wasn’t going to take that line of bull. About being fine that is.

“It just looked like she hit the ground hard that’s all.”

Sonny looked over where Leeah was heading towards the parking lot and her trailer. “Did she say anything to you?”

“No.”

“Well, she looks to be walking just fine.” Sonny tilted his head to one side. “From this angle anway.”

Cully cracked a tiny smile, which Sonny caught out of the corner of his eye. He then put his arm around his friend. “She’s fine, Cully. She had a good driver for the stunt.”

Cully nodded. “Yeah...”

“There ya go. Come on, I’ll buy ya a drink at the Palomino.”

*** **** ***

In her trailer, Leeah changed from her driving suit to a pair of jeans and a dark green pullover sweater. She looked out the window in time to see Sonny and Cully walk to Sonny’s truck. She watched Cully and smiled, subconciously rubbing her sore arm. She ignored the discomfort and headed out the door of her trailer.


*** **** ***

Sitting at a table on the patio of the Palomino, Sonny watched his best friend, waiting for him to say something, anything, about Leeah. But the older stuntman didn’t take the hint, so Sonny figured he was going to have to use the direct approach.

“Cully, for crying out loud haven’t you figured it out yet?” Sonny said.

Cully looked up from his beer. “What?”

Sonny rolled his eyes. “Leeah. The little lady likes you.”

Cully’s heart fluttered again, but he hid it. “And why would she do that?”

“What do I look like, a mind reader? I don’t know why, she just does. I mean, Gwen and I noticed it when her ex-boyfriend showed up at the Palamino and we cleaned house with him. And, I noticed it the day you helped Leeah check the cars. You, my friend, have become a knight in shining armor to her.”

“She’s just a friend. Come on, man, you know I ain’t never gonna do that again.”

“Life’s short, Cully. Look, Leeah’s a stunt woman, she understands what drives us and what drives you. I know you swore off women a long time ago, but partner, there are some women in this world who do understand. Just because you picked a rotten apple from the barrell once doesn’t mean the whole batch is bad.”

Cully eyed Sonny, amused by his statement.

“Okay, okay, lame way to put it, but you know what I mean!”

Cully thought a moment and then shook his head. “She’s just a friend, Sonny. Besides, she’s on...rebound or whatever they call it, after what she went through with her ex there. She’ll get over it and find somebody different when she’s ready.”

Sonny smiled. “I think she already has....”

Cully’s shoulders slumped.

“Awright, awright I’ll leave it alone.” He then smiled. “I do have to say tho’, it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

* * *

Later that evening, Jocko and Gwen joined up with Sonny and Cully at the Palomino. It had been a year since Jocko’s stroke, but the veteren stuntman had refused to let it do him in. His mobility was little slower than before and specific details with some of his legendary tales were missing, but Jocko Doyle was still pretty sharp. At Gwen’s insistence, had had cut back on the booze, but he wasn’t about to give it up completely. Gwen figured he would have a bottle in his hand when he finally passed on, and he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

With Cully taking a shot at one of the pin ball machines, Jocko decided now was a good time to bring up the next subject. He looked at Sonny.

“So tell me about this leadfoot lady stunt driver that Gwen mentioned. She any good?”

Sonny nodded. “Jocko, I don’t think there’s ever been a woman stunt driver like her. She is damn good at what she does.”

“And Cully’s got the hots for her, right?”

Sonny laughed.

“I think they’re both attracted to one another,” Gwen said. “The hard part is getting them to do something about it.”

“Well, I don’t expect Cully to make any move,” Jocko said. “That ol’ boy swore of women a long time ago. And if Leeah makes a move towards him, he’ll probably run like hell.”

“He hasn’t run yet,” Sonny said. “He and Leeah have become really fast friends. I mean, he obviously likes being with her, he’s always willing to help her check a car before a stunt or do set up. And he doesn’t even have to.”

“Thing is, you talk to him about her and he says she’s ‘just a friend,’” Gwen said.

“Well, that’s the first stage ain’t it? Denial?” Jocko laughed. “Sounds to me he’s on the right track then.”

Gwen and Sonny smiled as the door to the Palomino opened. Sonny glanced over to see who had entered and wasn’t going to pay much attention to it, until he realized who exactly had entered.

“Hey hey, lookie who’s here.”

Gwen and Jocko turned to look. It was Leeah and she was scanning over the crowd looking for a familar face. She was wearing a pair of light blue, very form fitting jeans with a white t-shirt and black denim jacket. She had curled the ends of her hair enough to give it body and she took a moment to adjust the jacket. She was dressed for somebody.

“That’s her?” Jocko said. He turned back to Sonny, giving him a look that said, ‘nice.’

Gwen giggled. “Yeah, that’s her.”

Leeah made eye contact with Sonny, gave a short wave and smiled. She walked across the dance floor and up the short steps to the loft.

“I had a feelin’ I’d find you guys here,” she said.

“You sure it’s us you’re looking for, sweetheart?” Jocko asked.

Leeah looked at the stranger. “Huh?”

“Um, Leeah, I’d like you meet my dad,” Gwen said. “Jocko Doyle, this is Leeah Fredricks.”

“No kiddin’!” Leeah said. She plopped down in the chair next to Sonny and across from Jocko. “THE Jocko Doyle? Well, I’m honored to meet you sir.” She put her hand out.

Jocko smiled and shook her hand. “Not as honored as I am to meet you,” he said. “Been hearin’ some good things about you. Burnin’ up tires and wreckin’ cars. My kinda woman!”

Leeah giggled. “Well thank you. I’d have done horse tricks and stage coach jumpin’ but nobody makes westerns anymore.”

“Damn shame too.”

Leeah looked around the Palomino. “So where’s Cully hiding?”

“Over there.” Sonny pointed. Leeah looked and saw Cully standing at the pin ball machine. Just then Debbie walked to the table with everyone’s orders.

“Wait a minute,” she said, looking at Leeah. “I thought Cully was here?”

“Yeah, he’s over at the pin ball machine,” Sonny explained. “Debbie, this is Leeah.”

“I thought you looked familar,” Debbie said and smiled at Leeah. She placed everyone’s plates down and then looked at the stuntwoman. “You want something to eat?”

“How about one of those steak and cheese subs?”

“Okay. Drink?”

“Just soda. Uh...a Coke.”

Debbie nodded. “I’ll be right back.” As she walked away Sonny said to Leeah, “Why don’t you go tell Cully dinner’s ready?”

“Sure thing.” Leeah got up and walked over to the pin ball machine. Cully lost another round and slapped the machine. “Stupid thing,” he muttered before looking to see who was standing next to him.

“I think it’s rigged--hey Leeah!”

Leeah smiled. “I wasn’t gonna play anyway.”

“When’d you get here?”

“About five minutes ago. Listen, yer dinner is served.”

Cully looked ready to dig in. “You gonna stay?”

“Sure am.”

“Great!” Cully took her by the arm and walked with her back to the table. “Didja meet Jocko?”

“Yes, I did...”

Sonny, Gwen and Jocko made no comments or cryptic statements for the rest of the evening. Atleast, none that Leeah or Cully was in ear shot to hear. When the live band played a slow country ballad in their second set, Sonny and Gwen danced. Jocko suggested it to Cully and Leeah and Leeah could feel her face flush and hoped the shadows of the Palomino hid it. Cully only chuckled and replied that he couldn’t dance.

“It would be like ten pin bowling and dominoes out there! I’d be crashin’ into everybody.”

Jocko laughed. “Yeah, I forgot about that. You can’t dance worth a pile of horse manure.”

Leeah giggled.

Pretty much everybody at the Palomino that night got their picture taken. Tracy Wilson, who had been doing stunt work in Hollywood for almost five years, had met a man and they decided they were going to get married and settle down. But it wouldn’t be in California. They hadn’t decided where they were going to go, but Tracy figured she wouldn’t be seeing all the familar faces at the Palomino again so she was snapping pictures like crazy. When she got to Sonny’s table she took enough pictures of the group alone to wallpaper more than one wall.

“Wait I gotta git one of Sonny and Gwen together.” One? She took almost five.

“Okay, Cully I gotta get a shot of them baby blues.” Click, click, click. Tracy looked at Leeah sitting next to Cully. “Can I take your picture too? Damn I’m gonna miss everybody.”

Leeah nodded.

“Scoot in next to Cully. I’ll get one of the two of ya.”

Leeah moved closer to Cully and leaned on his arm that was propped on the table. Tracy snapped a few pics and smiled at them. “You two take a terrific picture together! Okay, Jocko your turn.”

Jocko struck a pose and Tracy snapped a pic. “Now you gotta smile.” He did and another shot was captured for posterity. Tracy finished her photo shoot with a couple of pictures of Gwen with her dad.

Leeah kept to her two beer limit and when she tasted the last drop she put the bottle down and looked at her watch. She had reached her time limit as well.

She kept thinking of the photograph and several times wanted to go find the woman who had taken it to see if she could have a copy of one of the ones of her and Cully. What a wonderful excuse it had been to get close to him. It would have been nice to have had a memento of the occasion. But Leeah had scanned the Palomino looking for Tracy and saw no sign of the woman.

Gwen saw Leeah look at her watch. “You’re not thinking of leaving already are you, Leeah?”

Leeah looked at Gwen with apology. “Yeah, I should get going.”

“Aww, Cully ain’t gonna like to hear that.” Gwen smiled when Leeah looked at her.

The stuntwoman blushed. “Well, I’m sure he’ll get through it.”

Gwen laughed.

Leeah stood up and took her jacket off the back of her chair.

“Ya leavin’ already?” Sonny asked, stopping in mid conversation with Jocko.

“Yeah. I’ve had my two beers.”

Sonny grinned. “The big jump’s tomorrow.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m thinking I better cut out now.”

Sonny nodded. He then looked around the Palomino. “What a time for Cully to pull a disappearing act.”

“Uhh...” Jocko glanced at Sonny. “I think he’s using the facilities.”

“Well, give him my ‘see-ya-laters’ and I’ll see you guys on the track tomorrow,” Leeah said.

“Sure thing.”

Everyone said goodnight to Leeah and she started towards the door. Cully was walking down the hall from the men’s room and saw Leeah walk out the door. He followed after her.

“Darn it all, you’re leavin’ already?” he called after her. Leeah stopped and turned to him and smiled.

“Sorry,” she said with a giggle. “I’ve had my two beers, it’s gettin’ close to my bed time, I gotta git home.”

Cully shook his head. “I don’t know if I can get used to you takin’ off so early all the time.”

Leeah smiled. “I’m not much of a night owl.” Together they walked to her Firebird.

“The big jump’s tomorrow ain’t it?” he asked.

“Yeah. If the director expects me to land that jump in one take, I should be gettin’ the heck outta here that’s for sure.”

Cully nodded. “Listen, be careful driving home, huh? I mean...” He paused.

“Jason?”

“Yeah.”

Leeah smiled appreciatively. “I’ll be alright. Thanks, Cully.”

Cully pulled open the door on the Firebird for Leeah. He watched her get in and then he closed the door for her. She looked up at him and smiled.

“I’m glad ya came tonight,” he said.

“Me too. I had fun.”

Cully stopped short of apologizing for not dancing with her. Truth was, he couldn’t dance! But he just nodded. “See ya tomorrow.”

Leeah started the car. “You know it. G’nite, Cully.”

He stepped back as the Firebird slowly pulled away. He watched as the white car slipped into the shadows out of the parking lot lights of the Palomino and the two tail lights moved down the slope and onto the road.

* * *

In her dreams, Leeah giggled as Cully nuzzled against her neck and side of her face and then softly kissed her cheek. He was standing behind her, his arms wrapped around her waist, holding her close to him. They were standing on the outdoor patio of the Palomino watching the stars and listening to the country ballad playing from the juke box. Leeah turned her head slightly to reward him with a kiss on the lips when the dream shattered and she awoke, kissing her pillow.

“Pthbbhht.” Leeah opened her eyes, recalling the dream and felt her face get hot. “Aw geez...” she whispered. After six months, Leeah hadn’t had a date, let alone even looked at another man. Her experience with Jason had done nothing but force her to close her heart. But Cully...she wanted to try to open her heart again, but would he even notice? Leeah sighed and climbed out of bed.

She no sooner had finished eating her breakfast and dressed when the phone rang. It was Sonny, with a request.

“You wanna go pick up Cully?”

Leeah laughed. “Pick him up from where?”

“His place.” Sonny chuckled. “See, when we went to the Palomino last night, he and I rode in my truck. And then I dropped him off at his place, completely forgetting that his car was back at the track. Needless to say, I got here this morning and saw his car, but no Cully. And it’s one hell of walk from where he is.”

“No problem. Where’s he live?”

After Sonny gave her directions, Leeah hung up and was out the door.

* * *


Leeah brought the Firebird to a stop at the redlight and casually looked around the intersection. Cully glanced in the Firebird’s side mirror and saw the yellow Plymouth. He looked at it for a long moment and then slowly turned to look at it out the back window.

He looked long enough to see Jason giving him the one finger salute.

“What’s wrong?” Leeah asked as Cully faced front again.

“We got company.”

Leeah checked her mirrors. “Aw shit.”

The light turned green and the Plymouth spun it’s tires. Before Leeah could get the Firebird to move, she was rear-ended once again.

“Ah! Dammit!” Leeah’s foot slipped on the clutch and pushed too much on the gas causing the Firebird to buck as it moved into the intersection. She quickly corrected it by pushing the clutch all the way in and then came off it hitting the gas, peeling away from the Cuda.

“How long’s he been followin’ us?”

“I dunno, but when I turned around to look he gave me the bird. Cordial little shit isn’t he?”

Leeah swung the Firebird down a street with the Cuda following right after it. She cut infront of another car, getting a blaring horn in reponse and punched the accelerator.

“Dammit, Cully, if Jason keeps up with these road chases, some innocent person is gonna end up a hood ornament!”

Everybody on the side walks were watching the two muscle cars as they screamed by. It was like a chase scene that Leeah or Cully would do for a movie. Only none of the other drivers on the road were stunt drivers and there was no director to yell “cut!”

“Cut over to the boulevard here, if we can get over to Allison you might be able to lose him.”

“Okay, hang on,” Leeah checked her mirrors and cut the Firebird to the outside lane then snaked down a side street..

Jason missed the turn but just continued up the next block and took the next side street. Neither Leeah or Cully looked behind them and the Firebird quickly drove out onto the boulevard. Leeah looked to her left to make sure no one was coming and saw the yellow Plymouth.

“Dammit, there he is,” she muttered. Jason was now two car lengths behind as the chase continued on the boulevard. Cully looked out the back window, judging the distance back the Barracuda was and trying to figure another move Leeah could make.

“What street did you say?” she asked. “Allison?”

“Yeah.”

“Where the Peterbilt dealer is?”

“Right. I was figuring if we could get a good distance on him we could sneak in their lot and hide there.”

“Works for me!”

“Yeah, but he’s gonna see ya make the run at this distance.”

“I know, I’m gonna add a little bit. Hold on!” Leeah cut the Firebird to the inside lane of the four lane boulevard and opened up. She passed Allison Street, waited for the traffic to open up on the other two lanes and she swung the Firebird in a U turn. Jason saw them, cut into on coming traffic and aimed straight for the Firebird. Leeah snaked around, bumping the Firebird onto the sidewalk and nearly taking out a parking meter. Tires squealed and skidded and she fishtailed onto Allison Street, while Jason was still turning the Plymouth around.

Leeah saw the entrance to the Peterbilt dealer and the Pontiac quickly ducked in. She squeezed the Firebird between two of the trucks, the massive wheels hiding enough of the car from the road. She and Cully watched over the trailer hitch of the truck as the yellow Plymouth zoomed down the road.

Silence hung in the car for a moment. Leeah forgot the Firebird was still in gear and she took her foot off the clutch, stalling the engine.

“You all right?” Cully asked.

Leeah waited a moment and said, “I think so....”

“Leeah, listen to me. He’s gotta be stopped! You have got to go to the cops or something.”

“What the hell difference is going to the cops going to do?! It doesn’t work, Cully! The damn cops don’t do nothing! I know....I’ve tried before...” Leeah threw her head back against the seat. “He’s gonna kill me,” she said, her voice starting to break. “Dammit, he’s never gonna leave me alone until I’m dead...”

“You’re wrong about that,” Cully said. He took a hold of her hand that was resting on the gear shift. “He’s not gonna kill ya.” He hesitated a moment, looking at her slim hand, realizing something felt different with the touch of her hand in his. No, she’s a friend. I’m just protecting a friend, just like I would Sonny or Gwen or Jocko. “I promise you that,” he finished and looked at her.

Leeah was already looking at him. She smiled as one of the tear drops fell down her cheek. “Thanks, Cully,” she whispered.

Cully drove the rest of the way to the track. Both he and Leeah found themselves looking around, watching the mirrors, waiting for the damn yellow Cuda to show up again.

What a time for this to happen, Cully thought. She’s gotta do a big jump and now her nerves are all rattled. That little shit...

When they arrived at the track, Leeah had barely said a word. She got out of the car, slammed the passenger door hard and stood for a moment by the front of the Firebird. Cully came around the car, looking at her.

“Leeah?”

She wouldn’t look at him. From her profile though, Cully could see it. Fear. She could smash cars, jump them, roll them over, ride on the doors of one up on two wheels and do it all without a trace of anxiety. But now, the seemingly fearless stuntwoman was scared.

“Leeah...”

She realized he was standing right next to her and she slowly turned her eyes up to him. She was on the verge of tears and still shaky from what had happened. And her feelings towards Cully were only growing stronger.

Dammit! Dammit it all to hell! I’m in love with you Cully Dawson, haven’t you figured that out yet?!

But Leeah knew she couldn’t say it, not now. She wasn’t sure she could ever say it. All she could do was cry.

Cully put a supportive arm around her. “Hey, it’s okay...it’s alright, Leeah.”

Sonny was walking towards them and saw as Leeah put her head on Cully’s shoulder. It was nice to see, but something was wrong, he could tell from the troubled look on his friend’s face. Sonny picked up his pace and jogged to them.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“It was Jason again,” Cully said.

“Shit. Are you guys all right?”

“We’re fine. We lost him in the chase but...” He looked down at Leeah, who was still quietly crying.

Sonny sighed. “Damn, I’m sorry Leeah. Listen, if you wanna wait to do the stunt--”

“No,” Leeah said, looking up from Cully’s shoulder. “No...I’ll do it.” She paused a moment, pulling herself together. “I’ll be alright. Just give me a few minutes to get in the right frame of mind.”

Sonny nodded. “Okay. The boys are still setting up the ramp, but we don’t roll until you’re ready, ‘k?”

Leeah nodded. “Thanks, Sonny.” She then stood on her own and looked at Cully. “Will you help me check the car?”

He nodded. “I’ll be over there waitin’ for ya.”

A few minutes later, after she changed into the silver stunt suit, Leeah walked towards the silver Trans Am where Cully was waiting. Her tears had dried and her face showed she was trying to stay focused on the upcoming stunt, but was still clouded by what had happened.

So was Cully. He was adament now about keeping her safe and determined not to let Jason get her. Or get to her. But Cully knew there was only so much he could do. He couldn’t follow her around all the time, that wasn’t what she needed. But somehow he wanted to let her know...but he couldn’t figure how to tell her or show her.

He kept an eye on her, even as he was checkin’ the engine for her. He cautiously asked if she was going to be okay to do the stunt.

She nodded. “Yeah, I’ll be all right. Believe it or not Cully, I actually want to be behind the wheel of this thing.”

“Okay. Just remember, it’s okay if you wanna wait a little bit.”

“I know.”

* *


Jason patted the side of his jacket and casually walked amongst the crowd of spectators being brought in for the next scene. As the crowd headed towards the bleachers, Jason snuck around the back of the bleachers and made his way towards turn three of the track. Assured that no one had spotted him, he laid low behind the wall and waited.

* *


When they finished checking the car, Cully wished Leeah luck as she got in. She drove the Trans Am out to the end of the entrance of the drive of the race track and turned the car around. She stopped and took a moment to situate herself with her helmet, harness and seatbelts. When she was strapped in and ready, she put her driving gloves on and waved out the window to signal she was ready.

“Clear out of the way of the drive and ramp!” the director yelled through his bull horn.


* *

Hearing the director call out, Jason carefully rose above the wall and removed his gun from the inside pocket of his jacket. He removed a barrelled object from his outside pocket and twisted it onto the end of the gun.

* *

Sonny and Cully found a spot behind the cameras as other crew cleared out of the way of the path of the Trans Am. They could hear Leeah reving the powerful engine and when the director yelled action, rubber screamed against the pavement.

A security guard was was walking around the outside wall of turn two and he saw the person aiming a gun at the stunt car. “Hey! Hey!!”

Cully and Sonny watched as the silver car shot like a flame down the path. She was aimed straight for the ramp, her speed was up. It looked like the beginning of a clear take off. But just before Leeah hit the ramp, the front tire blew out.

Cully and Sonny watched in horror as the Trans Am hit the ramp and careened to it’s right. The flat tire went off the ramp, the car turned side ways up the ramp and then the back end swung around, sending the stunt car off the ramp and down on it’s side, at 65 miles an hour. It flipped side over side three times and landed on it’s wheels. A cloud dust swirled around the now very still car and both Cully and Sonny saw the gasoline dripping from the back.

“Leeah!” Cully exclaimed as he and Sonny ran over to the wrecked car. It was a stunt person’s worst nightmare. After everything had been checked, re-checked and triple checked, something still went wrong, one small thing that sends the entire stunt out of control.

Sonny reached in and started undoing the secure bolts on the inside panel of the door. Cully just stared at Leeah, sitting in the cockpit, with her eyes closed looking a little too peaceful. He gently touched his fingers to her neck to check for a pulse. He found it, just as the strong smell of gasoline filled his nose.

“We gotta git her outta here, Cully!” Sonny exclaimed as he pulled on the door. As Sonny and Ski tried to pry the door open, Cully started to unlatch Leeah’s harness and seatbelts. He then joined the two men in pulling on the door. The buckled metal screamed in resistance as the three men finally got it opened.


When Jason realized he had been spotted, he climbed over the retaining wall and started running, heading for the track entrance.


As an ambulance pulled up, Cully carefully lifted Leeah out of the Trans Am and carried her away from the car. Sonny and Ski ran away from the car just before a small burst of flames came from the back underside traveling right out through the hood.

One of the ambulance attendents had put a “straight board” down on the ground near the ambulance and helped Cully place Leeah gently down on it. Cully then got out of the way so the paramedics could do their thing, but he watched in a daze with his heart racing wildly, looking at Leeah.

How could that tire have blown? We checked every inch of that car!

“Hey! Hey somebody stop him, he was shooting at the car!!”

Cully looked up and saw two people running across the infield of the race track. He recognized the security guard and when he recognized Leeah’s ex-boyfriend he suddenly saw red.

“Sonny! It’s him!” Cully called to his friend and then started running. Sonny looked and then turned to one of the other Trans Ams. He jumped into the car, despite the protest of the producer and tore off to cut off Jason’s escape.

Jason tried to dodge around the car but the silver Pontiac had it’s sights trained on him. Sonny brought the Trans Am up beside Jason and then cut in front of him, sending the ex boyfriend tumbling over the hood.

The gun he had went clattering on to the pavement and Cully and the security guard both grabbed Jason and held him against the car. Sonny had jumped out of the Trams Am and came around to help. He picked up the gun with the silencer still on it and looked at, feeling a little sick. He then looked at Jason, wondering if shooting out a tire was his only intended use of the weapon.

Cully and Jason both had the looks of two snarling dogs ready to go at it. Cully held a firm grip on Jason’s tattered black leather jacket as the security guard radioed in that the intruder had been caught. He then requested a call be put in to the LAPD.


* * *


Cully didn’t go straight to the hospital when the ambulance left, even though he told Sonny he would follow. Instead, he sat in his Subaru for a long spell, thinking about Leeah and how his feelings about her were stronger than he had ever wanted them to be. He knew he should go to the hospital to make sure she was okay, but his feelings were scaring the heck out of him and the last thing he needed was to find out that she wasn’t going to be okay, and have it all make him feel even worse.

Cully buried his face in his hands. How did it happen? I was never gonna let this happen again, so why is it happening now?

He knew he had to take time to try to sort through his feelings and there was only one place he knew where he could that. So he started the Subaru and drove off the track.


At the hospital, forty-five minutes later, Sonny walked into the ER waiting room for the third time.

“No sign of Cully?” Gwen asked.

Sonny shook his head and sat down next to her. “No. He said he was gonna follow, and it ain’t like he doesn’t know how to get here that’s for damn sure.”

“Maybe he got held up by traffic or something?”

Sonny thought a moment, but not about the answer to Gwen’s question. “No, not at this time of day,” he said. “But, I think he got held up by something else...”

“What?”

Sonny looked at her. “A bottle of beer. I bet he’s at the damn Palomino and I bet I know why.” He stood up. “You just sit tight, I’ll be back.”

Gwen watched Sonny go and then shook her head over Cully. Was he that scared of love and a woman? Was he THAT scared?


Sonny found Cully at the Palamino. He was sitting at a booth, staring off into space, already on his third round of whiskey. The blonde, short haired waitress, Debbie, walked up to Sonny just as he came in the door. “What the hell’s with Cully? I ain’t NEVER seen him like this.”

“It’s a long story,” Sonny said and went straight to where Cully was sitting. The older stuntman didn’t look up even as Sonny sat down across from him. His head and black hat were tipped downward.

“Go away.”

“Wrong greeting,” Sonny said. “I’m disappointed in you, Cully. Damn disappointed.”

Cully made no response and took a drink.

“Through this whole thing, you’ve kept saying that she was just a friend and you’ve been helping her like any friend would. Now that she needs her friends the most, where the hell are you? You’re here, drowin’ yourself in beer.”

“Whiskey,” Cully corrected. “Now why don’t you leave me alone?”

“Cully, this ain’t the time for this crap. Forget the fact the little lady has romantic notions towards you, you’ve been a friend to her, which is what she’s needed most. And she still needs you as a friend, man.”

Cully raised his head, looked at Sonny and blinked slowly. “When the hell did you become so insightful?”

Sonny rolled his eyes. “Come off it, Cully. This ain’t like you. I’ve never known you to do something like this when a friend was in trouble.”

Cully looked at his friend and then took another sip of his whiskey. Sonny watched him, figuring that after so many years, a woman had finally got to Cully, and his friend was either scared by it or was determined not to let it go further.

“Do you think of Gwen as a friend?” Cully asked softly. “I mean, along with bein’ your girl?”

Sonny paused. “Yeah...” he said, although he was still thinking about it. If he and Gwen had met like Leeah and Cully had and attributing nothing to physical attraction, would he had been a friend and helped her out with her situation?

“Yeah, she’s a friend,” Sonny said with more confidence. He then turned the answer back to Cully. “And if Gwen was in the hospital now, I’d be there and not here that’s for sure!”

Cully’s eyes went downcast. “I know...”

“She got to you, didn’t she? And you’re scared as hell right now.”

Cully slowly brought his gaze up to meet Sonny’s. The man’s blue eyes were clouded with both fear and concern.

“It’s stupid ain’t it? I’m worried about her, Sonny. Dammit, I’m scared for her, I mean I pulled her outta that car and it was like...I dunno, holding a fragile doll that had just broke. I know I should be at that hospital. I know I should! But...” His gaze dropped again. “I think you’re right, Sonny. I think she got to me and I swore I was never going to let it happen again.”

Sonny pushed the glass of whiskey out of the way. He stood up and offered his hand to Cully. “There’s a friend that needs you, Cully. I’m afraid you’re gonna have to sort out your other feelings later. You can’t abandon her like this now.”

Cully looked at the whiskey bottle and glass and then at his friend’s hand. Sonny was right, and somehow through the alcohol, he knew it. He reminded himself that Leeah was a friend first and foremost. He glanced at the bottle, forcefully pushing his other feelings aside and took Sonny’s hand, standing up.

“Get me the hell outta here,” he said as Sonny grabbed him by the arm and helped him out of the Palomino.


* * *

“Wait a minute, Sonny,” Cully said trying to get Sonny to stop from dragging him into the ER waiting room. “I can’t go in there, I--”

“Come on, Cully, no excuses.”

“Cully!” Gwen called. The two men turned to see her coming out of the doors. “Where have you been??” She stopped next to him and then wrinkled her nose. “Oh God, Cully, what have you been drinking?”

“See?” Cully looked at Sonny. “Can’t go into a hospital smellin’ like a Tennessee still.”

“I don’t care if you smell like rotten eggs, let’s go,” Sonny said and took Cully’s arm leading him to the door. “Just don’t breathe on nobody...” Gwen joined the escort, taking Cully by his other arm.

So they sat in the waiting room in silence. For a spell, they were the only ones in the room. Sonny flipped through a magazine, Gwen lingered near the coffee machine and Cully just stared out the window. Everything he saw, reminded him of Leeah and the white newer ‘Bandit’ styled Firebird only made the memories more intense. It was insane but he finally gave up fighting it. He couldn’t help but wonder, though, if maybe he had fought it too long.

Gwen took a sip of her coffee and looked over at Cully. He looked miserable and she was sure that this waiting was getting to him, like it was to her. It seemed like they had been there forever and the only break in the monotony had come when a mother and father had come in with their little boy, who had some bad looking scrapes on his arms and legs from taking a tumble off his bike. But they had come and gone and the waiting room was back to being unbearably quiet.

Cully barely noticed when Gwen sat down in the chair next to him. He took some comfort in knowing she and Sonny were there, but did they really understand what he was going through inside? He wasn’t even sure himself. He had almost forgotten what it was like to feel what he felt. And then the image of the Trans Am swerving off the ramp....

He closed his eyes trying to wish it away.

“Cully?” Gwen said gently and lightly touched his arm. “You okay?”

Cully shook his head. “No...not really.”

Sonny looked up from his magazine at his friend.

“You know, there’s nothing wrong with being attracted to Leeah,” Gwen said. “I mean, she obviously likes you...”

Cully looked at Gwen sadly. “Gwen,” he said gently. “I’ve gotten a lot of advice from folks for the past week or so...” He shook his head. “I don’t need anymore...”

Gwen watched Cully’s eyes and then nodded. “I’m sorry, Cully.” She patted his arm. “She’ll be alright.”

Cully gave a nod, but it wasn’t very convincing. “I hope you’re right.”

A few moments later, the doctor came out.

“Mr. Hooper?”

Three heads turned at the same time. Sonny quickly placed his magazine down and stood up. “I’m Sonny Hooper,” he said as he approached the doctor.

“I’m Doctor Michael Jones. I just wanted to let you know that Leeah is going to be okay. She’s banged up pretty badly, but nothing that is going to restrict mobility and certainly nothing paralyzing. However, she will not be driving a car for atleast six weeks and certainly won’t be doing any stunt driving in that time.”

Sonny nodded. “What did she injure?”

“Well, she has cracked ribs and some bruises to her back. She came close to fracturing her hip...looks like it was bruised fairly recently, and a few times before.”

Cully stared at the doctor. “God dammit...” he whispered.

Gwen looked at Cully and gave his arm a supportive grip.

The doctor glanced at Cully and then returned his attention back to Sonny. “I’ll be honest with you, Mr. Hooper. Her X-rays are showing previous injuries that were never properly healed. Now, I don’t know if they’re all from stunt driving or not, but if she doesn’t stop stunt driving once and for all, it’s not going to kill her. She’ll just fall to pieces.”

Sonny took a deep breath. “I understand, Doc.”

“If you want to see her, I need to ask that you wait until later this evening. Right now she needs rest and she’s on some pain medication that’s making her a little unaware of her surroundings. Once she sleeps it off, she’ll be alright.”

Sonny nodded. “Thanks, Doc. We’ll be back later this evening.”

The doctor nodded and turned back towards the ER. Sonny, Cully and Gwen walked out of the waiting room and left the hospital.

As soon as the doors behind them closed, Cully said, “Dammit, Sonny, I knew she shoulda gone to see the doc that day! And you know where them previous injuries are from. That god damn punk Jason. I swear, if I see him again I’m gonna kick his a--”

“Cully,” Gwen interrupted gently, grabbing him by the arm. “Do you want to come back later to see Leeah?”

Cully stopped and regained his composure. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I do.”

“Good,” she said. “I think she’d like that.”

Cully remained hushed and nodded.

Sonny put a supportive hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Listen, why don’t you go home and straighten yourself out. We’ll call you and meet back here later tonight.”

“And stay away from the Palomino,” Gwen threatened. “And the booze!”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Cully said. He then looked at Sonny. “Where you goin’ now?”

“Well, I gotta go tell David and the director what’s goin’ on.” Sonny paused. “We may have to find another stunt driver.”

Later that evening, Sonny, Gwen and Cully met up at the hospital. Cully had cleaned up, sobered and even combed his hair. He didn’t go to the Palomino and tempting as it was to crack open a can of beer that he had in his refrigerator, he didn’t. It was the longest, toughest, loneliest four hours he’d ever gone through.

He held his hat in his hand and looked at the two quietly as they walked from the parking lot. It hurt a little to see them together, because Cully realized that he wanted something like that, and perhaps Leeah was who he wanted it with.

Sonny and Gwen smiled at Cully supportively. They knew he was hurting and they knew he was trying to half hide it.

“Didja talk to David?” Cully asked.

“Yeah. We’re suspending filming for a day. Somehow in that time, we gotta find another driver. I don’t think we’re gonna find one that quick.”

Cully nodded and turned his hat in his hand. “There ain’t no driver like her, Sonny. Male or female.”

“I know.”

Gwen hooked her arm around Cully’s. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s go see her.”

Leeah was sitting up in her bed, staring out the window as the sun disappeared just below the horizon. On her lap was a magazine, her fingers holding the place where she left off. The doctors dire words, the description of her injuries and the dull pain in her lower back and hips, swirled around in her mind. She had been injured doing stunts before, her doctors had warned her over and over, yet she still climbed behind the wheel and proved them all wrong. Well, maybe just proved she was crazy. But this time was different. This time, she couldn’t see herself getting into a stunt car ever again.

She sighed, and wondered what she would do now. Her heart asked her about Cully. Her brain answered that there was no guarantee with that. Not with his past that he was adament on never repeating. She closed her eyes and slowly leaned back against the pillow. The dull pain eased in her lower back for a moment, then settled again.

The hospital room seemed too quiet. She could hear the PA system paging doctors out in the hall, and the hushed chatter of the nurses, but there was something missing.

Music. I need music. I wonder if they’ll let me play some Boston?

She grinned. No, AC/DC, that’ll get ‘em goin’. Hee hee!

Leeah was still grinning when she heard voices coming closer to the doorway.

“...here it is...” It sounded like Gwen.

Leeah heard the sound of feet shuffling to a stop by the door.

“There’s sleeping beauty,” Sonny said.

“Maybe she’s still sleeping off the pain killer,” Cully said.

Leeah opened her eyes and looked towards the door. “Nope. Just restin’.” She smiled. “Come in.”

“How you feelin’, Leeah?” Gwen asked as the three gathered around.

“Awright, considerin’...”

“We saw your doctor earlier,” Sonny said. “He says you’re gonna be okay.”

“Yeah...” Leeah sighed. “Can’t drive no more, but I’m gonna be all right...” She paused. “I don’t even know what happened. The car was running fine. I don’t know what I hit but I hit it at 65 miles an hour and I don’t remember much after that, other than waking up here.”

Cully and Sonny exchanged glances. She doesn’t even know!

“Um,” Cully started. “You didn’t...hit anything.”

“Well then what the hell happened?” She looked back and forth between Sonny and Cully, waiting for an answer.

“Jason.”

She looked at Cully. “Jason??

Cully nodded. He hesitated and then spoke softly. “He shot out yer tire, from behind the retaining wall.”

Leeah stared at him, her face turning whiter than it already was. “You’re kiddin’...for god’s sake, tell me you’re kiddin’...”

The boys shook their heads. “We ain’t,” Sonny said.

“Well that’s just great. That son of a bitch, I hope he’s happy now.” Leeah’s eyes started to turn red. “I can’t drive a stunt car again...”

“Leeah, there’s always a chance--” Cully started.

She shook her head. “No. I ain’t gettin’ in a stunt car again, Cully. Not unless I want to end up paralyzed or dead. Stunt driving was my escape from Jason.” She looked up at him. “And he tried to use it to kill me. He didn’t want me to live. He wanted to have me all to hisself so he could beat the hell outta me. I wasn’t gonna stand there and take it, Cully! So I got out and what does he decide? That no other man can have me, either to hurt or to hold, so he was gonna take me out completely. And he tried to use my only escape from him to do it. There’s no way I can get back in stunt car again, Cully. No way in hell.”

The three stood, a little stunned. It was the first time Leeah admitted that Jason had beat her, and even though they had figured he had, hearing it from her was sobering.

“I’m sorry,” Leeah said after a long moment. She sighed and buried her face in her hands.

“It’s ok, Leeah. You’ve got a lot on your mind,” Sonny said.

“Yeah, it’s alright,” Gwen said. She put an encouraging hand on her shoulder.

“I just hate to see ya have to give up on stunt driving, “ Cully said.

“I know. I do too. There was a time when I would get hurt after a stunt and my doctors would warn me. But I never listened then. I couldn’t wait to get out of the hospital or to heal up enough to get back behind the wheel. But this time...I just don’t want to do it again.”

“If you’re giving up because of what Jason did...” Cully said.

She shook her head. “No, I had already decided before you told me.”

The room was quiet again. Gwen glanced up at Sonny, wondering if they should try to leave and let Cully talk to Leeah alone. Sonny agreed and nodded slightly.

“Listen, if it’s all right with you Cully, me and Gwen are gonna grab a bite to eat from the snack machine. We’ll wait for ya down stairs.”

Cully looked at them, a little surprised. He then realized they were giving him a chance to talk to Leeah alone. He nodded. “All right.”

“You get some rest, Leeah,” Gwen said. “Don’t worry about a thing, everything’s going to turn out alright.”

“Thanks, Gwen.” Leeah managed a smile for the team of Hooper and Doyle. Sonny told her to take it easy and then he and Gwen stepped out of the room.

Cully stood in silence for a moment and then stepped around to the left side of Leeah’s hospital bed. He looked at her, as she was watching him. He gripped his hat in his hand, not knowing where to start, or even how to ask.

“Leeah,” he said softly. “I’m sorry...”

“It’s not your fault, Cully.”

“No, I know...but still. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what Jason did to you, for what he’s done to you.”

“He hasn’t won yet. And he won’t ever. I won’t let him. It’s not Jason for why I’m thinking of quitting stunt driving. It’s for what my docs have been tellin’ me for the past few years. I think it’s finally sinking in.”

“You could be a gaffer, like Sonny. You’d be great at that.”

Leeah smiled a little. “Thanks. I’m sure I’ll figure something out as to what to do.”

Cully paused and then sat down on the edge of the bed. He turned his hat over in his hand. “Leeah, can I ask you somethin’?”

“Sure.”

Cully hesitated and then looked at her. “Something’s happened...between us, hasn’t it?”

She stared at him, her heart jumping. She could feel her face flush and she quickly looked away.

“Leeah, it’s okay,” he said suddenly. “I want to know if you feel something towards me, because I think....I feel...something...”

She looked at him, hopefully. “Yeah?”

He nodded. “Yeah...”

Leeah paused. “I do,” she said. “I do find ya...attractive, Cully.” It felt like her face was on fire. She looked down in embarassament.

Suddenly, Cully took her by the hand. “It’s okay, Leeah. I was hopin’ you’d say that.”

“I don’t wanna scare ya off tho’,” she said, looking at him. “Gwen told me how you were married before and that you swore off marriage and all that. I mean--I ain’t askin’ ya to marry me! But I like the fact that we’re friends, I’d like it to go further but your friendship means a lot to me, Cully. Pease, don’t run out on me now...” She was going a mile a minute at this point.

“Leeah--Leeah.” When she slowed down, he chuckled. “I ain’t gonna run,” he said. “Shoot heck, don’t worry about that.”

Leeah smiled. “Thanks.”

He gently squeezed her hand. “Listen, you get some rest ya hear? Me an’ Sonny will figure out how to finish the stunts.”

“I wish I could do it.”

Cully chuckled. “Hey, ya gotta leave somethin’ for us old timers ya know? You did all the spectacular stuff, now we just gotta go finish the rest.”

Leeah thought a moment. “But, Cully the racin’ scenes are all next week. Some of that’s supposed to be pretty hairy scary.”

“Eh, easier than fallin’ off a log.” He gave her hand a squeeze and stood up. “You just take it easy, okay?” He stood up and started to the door.

“Cully, you ain’t thinkin’ of drivin’ them stunts yourself are you?!”

He stopped at the door and turned back to her. “Of course not.” He gave her a wink. “See ya later.”


Part Three