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
Warning: Still language, still some violence and now some adult situations.
* * *
“Are you outta your mind?!” Sonny exclaimed.
“No. Come on, Sonny, you know I can do this stuff.” Cully and Sonny were standing in the middle of the race track set the next morning, two Trans Ams and one NASCAR decked out race car parked behind them.
“Cully, one of them stunts is supposed to be that the race car flips several times and catches fire. Now, you’re my friend and all but...you ain’t no spring chicken when it comes to that kinda drivin’. I think we should wait until we can get someone else to do it.”
“Like who? We only got a day to find somebody. I suppose you could have the Kid do it but you’d have to ride with him on it wouldn’t ya?”
“Come on, Cully. The Kid’s not experienced enough, I myself wouldn’t even drive that stunt, and I don’t want you to either.”
“I can do it, Sonny. I’ve done it before.”
“Yeah, I know. About twenty years ago.”
Cully held his tongue. He looked at Sonny, clearly furious with his friend’s decision.
“Why you wanna do this?” Sonny asked.
“Because we need somebody to do it, we ain’t got time to find no one else, and I can do it.”
“You’re doing it for Leeah, ain’t ya?”
Cully paused and then heaved a sigh. “You heard what the doc said. He wants her to stop stunt driving. He’s making her stop stunt driving.”
“I know, but Cully--”
“Let me finish it for her, Sonny. Please? I know I can do it. You know I can do this.”
Sonny sighed and paused in thought. He then rolled his eyes. “This is crazy. Of course Peters will go along with it because like you said, we ain’t got time to find anyone else.” He looked at Cully. “If you do this, you have to promise me one thing.”
“You better come out of it all alive.”
Cully grinned. “Consider it done.”
* * *
The next morning, Sonny caught up to Ski before the kid climbed into the NASCAR race car he would be driving durning the stunt.
“Listen, go easy on Cully, okay?”
“Yeah sure. You really think he can do this tho’? I mean--”
“He can do it. Just don’t go sending him into stratosphere when you hit him in this sequence. My only concern is that he’s got a lot on his mind and he may not be payin’ attention when he’s supposed to be.”
“Okay.” Ski paused. “You know...I could drive that stunt that’s set for next week.” Sonny shook his head. “Ski, I’m sorry, but you don’t have the experience yet. It’s a very complicated and risky stunt. Cully knows what it takes to do it.”
“Come on, I jumped that gorge with ya last year.”
“Yep. That’s car jumping. This is car rolling and flipping. Two different things.”
“Is it? I mean....” Ski paused. “Cully’s a dinosaur, Sonny.”
“Cully’s the only stunt man on this picture who can drive that stunt. And that’s the end of it, I don’t want to hear anymore about it.”
“Alright,” Ski said. He raised his hands, like a white flag. He then turned and climbed into the race car, as Sonny walked away.
“Okay people let’s go!!” the director called. Sonny looked over to see Cully getting into the race car. The older stuntman did it with just as much ease as Ski, albeit a bit slower. Cully put his racing helmet on and took a moment to adjust his belts, harness and driving gloves.
“Is everything set, Sonny?”
Sonny turned to the director. “Uh...just about. Lemme go check with Cully and then we’ll begin.”
The director nodded. Sonny jogged over to the race car before Cully could move it. Cully saw him coming and waited.
“Y’all set, Cully?”
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
“Alright. Listen, take it easy out there okay?”
“I’m just sayin’...”
“I know, I know. I’ll be fine, Sonny. Now git over there before you end up a hood ornament.”
Sonny grinned and slapped the roof of the racer. He ran back over to the director. “Alright, we’re set.”
The director lifted his bullhorn. “Okay folks! Where are my cameras?”
Each camera man sounded off. They were ready.
Six NASCAR painted race cars revved their engines. Cully was second in line with Ski just behind him. The cars started to move around the track to get the momentum started and then the director yelled for action.
The racers headed towards turn three and Cully tried to get on the inside of the car infront of him before getting into the turn. No such luck. The lead car held it’s postition going into the turn and coming out. Cully and Ski both hit the throttle of their racers and tried to pass the first car, but only ended up fighting with each other. It was perfect. The two cars bumped and nudged each other going down the straightaway. Cully was on the inside, Ski was outside. The older stuntman waited for the nose of The Kid’s racer to line up with the left side door. When it did, Ski turned the wheel and started to force Cully off the track. Cully attempted to compensate by gripping the steering wheel and slamming the brakes. Only he had no brakes.
Cully managed to utter one expelictive before his race car hit the pile of tires and went up on it’s left side. The car flipped once and landed on it’s wheels, two tires from the pile bouncing towards the infield of the track.
“CUT! CUT!! That was a hell of a lot better than what the script called for.”
Sonny ran to Cully’s race car, mentally preparing some cross words for Ski. I told the Kid to be careful for crying out loud!
“Cully?? Cully, ya alright?”
Cully climbed out of the car and stumbled a bit. Sonny grabbed a hold of his friend, knowing that the flip of the car had thrown his equalibrium off a bit.
“You alright?” Sonny asked, noticing Cully was taking a moment too long to stand up on his own.
“Damn brakes let go,” Cully rasped. He pulled the snap on his stunt helmet and pulled it off.
“No...” Cully shook his head which did nothing to add any more color to his face. “The dang thing went straight to the floor. I don’t understand it, they were fine when I started the sequence.”
Sonny stepped to the front of the car and kneeled down by the now flat front left side tire. He reached up underneath and found the brakeline as Ski was running over.
“What happened? I didn’t hit ya that hard did I? I didn’t mean too....”
“It’s alright, Ski,” Sonny said. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Cully watched Sonny. “Did it let go or something?”
Sonny turned his eyes up to Cully, a look of concern. He shook his head. “Nope. There’s a fine slit in it, just enough to let you have brakes for awhile.” Sonny brought his hand out and showed Cully the greasy black film on his fingers. “Everytime you stepped on the brakes you lost fluid and when you needed them the most the damn thing blew right out on ya.”
Ski couldn’t help the shaken feeling he got. Who would go cuttin’ a brake line like that? He looked at Cully and the older stuntman suddenly felt ill. “Sonny....Leeah was supposed to drive this car originally. You don’t think that punk set this up? Like a back up if gettin’ her on the ramp didn’t work.” Cully was becoming furious as he spoke.
Sonny nodded grimily. “We gotta go talk to David. Although pulling my own teeth may be easier, we gotta stop filming or something so we can check the remaining stunt cars. There’s no telling how many that weasel sabotaged.”
Cully nodded in agreement. “I agree with ya, partner.” He sighed and shook his head, trying to shake the awful feeling from the experience of losing the brakes and the thought that one man’s jealously could have nearly killed Leeah and him.
“I can’t suspend the filming,” David said, when an impromtu meeting between him, Sonny and Cully occurred at the edge of the track. “We’re still on schedule and within budget. To stop for an indefinate period of time would be costly of both time and money.” David was apologetic as he spoke.
“We’re being sabotaged,” Cully said. “I know we can’t prove it, but Leeah’s ex boyfriend there was trying to kill her. There’s no tellin’ how many cars he’s tampered with.”
“I know, and I don’t like that this sabotage has occurred, but I just can’t suspend filming. Neither the studio nor Leeah need this kind of publicity.” David paused. “Listen, is there some way you fellas can check the remaining stunt cars? I’ll accomodate as much as I can, but I can’t stop filming.”
Sonny sighed. “Well, we could do a thorough check of the remaining cars for today before their stunts, then tonight when they’re all trucked back to the studio me, Cully and coupla of other folks could go over the others with a fine tooth comb.”
David nodded. “I’ll let studio security know that you boys are going to be in the garages tonight.”
* * *
Cully squinted his eyes in the early evening sunset and watched Sonny’s blue GMC truck make it’s way to the garage. They had fifteen cars to look over, and Cully was already mad enough to spit nails after what happened to Leeah and to his own stunt car. He was sure if he or the other men found a car to be tampered with, he would be taking a trip to the county jail to kick Jason’s rearend.
“Keep yer cool, Cully, keep yer cool,” Sonny said as they walked into the garage. Four identical silver Trans Ams were parked together and 6 different racers were all lined up on the other wall. There were five lead race cars, the same as the one Cully drove in the stunt earlier that afternoon. Those five cars were the first to be checked.
Three of them had been tampered with. Ski found the first one and looked at Sonny and Cully in shock when he discovered the cut brake line. The youngster’s face looked like he had just discovered his Camelot stunt world had been shattered. There was an outside threat that had already effectively taken Leeah out, but had left enough land mines behind to make sure the job had been done. Which now put a lot of other folks in danger.
Cully swore and slammed his hand on the hood of the second racer that had a cut brake line. “I swear it, Sonny. I swear it! I’m gonna kick this guy’s tail....”
“Which isn’t going to solve a damn thing,” Sonny said, giving Cully a glare that told him to cool it. Cully relaxed his posture but his eyes still spoke of his rath.
Sonny exhaled slowly, realizing that these cars had to be ready for tomorrow. He understood his friend’s fury, he even shared in some of it. But now was not the time to get hot headed. They had to keep their cool and get things back on track for the picture.
“We’re gonna stay here tonight and replace every brake line on every car in this garage,” Sonny said slowly. He looked around at Cully, Ski and the other two stuntmen who were helping out. “We’re going to keep this as low profile as possible, understood? If you find anything else wrong with a car, let me know and we’ll fix it if we can. Otherwise, we don’t use the car.” Sonny looked at Ski. “You’re going shopping.” He then looked at Cully. “You’re going to go find Bill Upton. He’s the one that oversaw these cars when they were modified, I want you to find him and get his ass down here.”
Sonny then told Ski what he needed to get. The Kid then nodded and hurried out of the garage with Cully following.
“Somebody’s been screwin’ around with my cars?” Bill Upton said when Cully brought him to the garage to Sonny. “God dammit, Hooper, what the hell’s been goin’ on the past coupla days?”
Bill knew of Leeah’s spill and Cully’s brakes going out. And it made him madder than hell that cars he had worked to make sure were safe for their stunts were failing on the drivers.
Sonny quickly explained about Jason shooting out the tire on the Trans Am and possibly having been the one that tampered with the brake lines on the racers. To keep from putting the studio in a difficult position, each car had to be repaired and ready for shooting tomorrow. Otherwise, publicity about Leeah being hunted by an ex-boyfriend and other stuntmen being put in unnecessary danger would do nothing more than derail the production of the picture. And cost the studio money it didn’t want to loose.
When Ski returned, the men worked until past midnight, replacing the brake lines on every race car. Going by Bill’s strict checklist, every car was inspected and ready for the morning’s shoot.
Cully didn’t make it home and fell asleep in his Subaru. He was found the next morning by a studio guard making his rounds. Cully apologized and drove home, if only long enough to take a shower, change clothes and grab some coffee before heading out to the track.
He missed seeing Leeah and looking over at the trailer that had been hers only made him realize it more. He decided he would visit her later that afternoon.
* * *
Two days later, Gwen came out to meet Sonny as he walked from his truck towards the yard where Dancer was trotting over to greet him.
“Cully called,” Gwen said. “Leeah’s home from the hospital.”
“Great!” Sonny replied, geniunely appreciative to hear the news. He then grinned. “Is he by any chance home with her?”
Gwen giggled. “He didn’t say...but he sounded very happy on the phone.”
“That’s good,” Sonny said with a smile. “That’s good to hear.”
Dancer nodded her head.
Cully wasn’t home with Leeah, although he would have liked to have been. He knew she still needed rest, so after seeing she was settled in and all set at her place, he left her alone to catch up on her sleep. It was three days before she started to feel back to her old self and in that time Cully nearly drove himself crazy trying to find things to occupy himself. He immersed himself in the stunt work for the picture, checking cars, doing a little driving, even coaching the Kid on a few things. But he couldn’t wait to see Leeah again.
Likewise, Leeah couldn’t wait to see him. During those three days, he called her late in the afternoon to see if she was okay or if she needed anything. All she needed sometimes was just to hear his voice. On that third afternoon, Leeah asked him if he was doing anything the following morning, being Saturday.
“Usually recovering from a Friday night at the Palomino.”
“Tell ya what, you take it easy at the Palomino tonight because I need someobdy to ge me the hell outta this apartment tomorrow.”
Cully laughed. “Ready to roll huh?”
“You ain’t kiddin’.”
“What time you want me to pick ya up?”
“Can ya come around 9 or so? I got a whole mess of stuff I gotta do and I can’t drive a car so....”
“Darlin’, your chariot will be there. I’ll drive ya anywhere you wanna go.”
Leeah smiled. “Thanks, Cully.”
And he drove her practically everywhere. From the laundromat to the grocery store. When they finished and returned to her apartment just after noon time, he asked her if she felt up to a night out.
“Yeah. I’ve kinda missed the Palomino,” she giggled.
“Actually...I was thinking something different.”
Leeah looked at him. “Ooh...yeah?”
“Yeah...it’s nothing drastically different...but if you like to watch the sun set you get a better view from this spot than at the Palomino.” He seemed to hesitate a little. But Leeah smiled.
“I’ll be here waitin’ for ya to pick me up,” she said.
And she was waiting. She smiled at him as she got into his car. She looked beautiful with her hair pulled back on the sides, and the delicate gold chain that adorned her neck. She wore white capri pants and a mint green top. To Cully, she looked beautiful in just about anything.
He drove out towards the coast and up the highway a bit, almost towards Malibu. They stopped at a resteraunt just off the highway for dinner and just as the bottom of the sun was touching the Pacific, Cully drove Leeah to a spot where they could watch the sun set.
It was a fairly desolate stretch of highway, just north of Malibu. Cully brought the Subaru off the road and down the over grown dirt path. The path brought them down below the road where the Subaru was now out of view from people passing by. Taking her hand, Cully walked with Leeah towards the rocks of the coast. They stepped up a short distance to a big rock with a flat surface, almost like a collapsed sea wall, making it perfect to sit on and watch the view.
Leeah adjusted her capri pants and sat down on the rock. Cully sat behind her, close to her and hesitantly put his arm around her stomach to hold her.
“Is this okay?” he asked.
She smiled and leaned back against him. “This is great,” she said. She rested her arm on his.
He held her more confidently now and rested his chin on her shoulder.
“A lot better than the Palomino, ain’t it?”
Leeah giggled. “Yeah. It’s funny tho’, I had a dream about something like this about a week or so ago.”
Cully was interested. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. You and I were at the Palomino, out on the patio and we were standing like this and...” she laughed softly. “I turned to kiss ya and woke up kissing my pillow.”
Cully chuckled. “Too bad ya woke up. I would have liked to have been there for the rest of it.”
She giggled again. “Yeah, I bet you would have.”
He nuzzled against her neck and cheek in response and Leeah smiled. They were quiet as they watched the sun change the colors of the sky from blue to pink, purple and orange as the clouds captured the show of colors.
“You like sunrises?” Leeah asked.
“Sure. If I’m up early enough to see it.”
“Well, some morning if you’re up, come get me,” she chuckled. She then sighed. “I’ll be honest, Cully, I don’t know if I can go six weeks without driving a car.”
“Sweetheart, I’ll take ya anywhere you want to go. Even at three-thirty in the morning. If you gotta go somewhere, you give me a call.”
“Oh sure, you say that now. But what are you gonna say at three-thirty in the morning with the phone rings?” She altered her accent to sound like Cully. “God dammit, Leeah, can’t this wait?”
“Doh...I wouldn’t say that.”
Leeah giggled. “I bet you would you have had a rough night before.”
“Well...maybe. But I’d still pick ya up.”
Leeah looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “You wouldn’t mind?”
“I wouldn’t mind at all. Heck, I’d get to see you.” He gently squeezed her and grinned.
Leeah smiled, nearly as bright as the remaining sun reflecting off the ocean. He loved to see her smile and he loved being able to hold her close. Man, how he was enjoying just holding her. He realized that he had missed that feeling of holding someone, and he had thought about what it would be like to be this close to Leeah. His thoughts didn’t compare. The real thing was much better.
They watched the sun set until it disappeared completely and Cully drove Leeah back to her apartment. He walked with her to her door and then smiled as she turned to him.
“Sunset was too short,” he said.
“Yeah, it was.” She grinned. “There’s always tomorrow night.”
Cully’s eyes lit up. “Is that an invite?”
She continued to smile at him and waited for his next move. But he was too nervous so he could only manage to give her a soft kiss on the cheek. When he looked at her, she was still smiling, silently telling him that what he did was fine.
“I had a nice time,” he said. “Do we have a date for tomorrow.”
“We sure do!” Leeah laughed and gave him a wink. “I’ll be right here waitin’ for ya again.”
And they watched the sunset again. They went out a couple nights in a row, and even went to the Palomino. Cully still couldn’t kiss her. The touch of her cheek was enough. He was afraid if he tried to kiss her on the lips, he’d burst!
Leeah didn’t mind. She knew Cully needed to have things move at his own pace and she liked the pace he was going thus far.
Folks at the Palomino began to notice Cully and Leeah together. They talked amongst themselves, knowing roughly Cully’s age and guessing at Leeah’s. Some smirked, some thought it was sweet. Everybody had a comment.
Leeah was standing by herself near the bar when one of the Palomino’s regulars, Gail, approached her. After saying hello, she got to the point.
“Leeah, are you and Cully seeing each other?”
Pause. “Isn’t Cully kinda old for you?”
Leeah looked at Gail. She hadn’t even stopped to consider the age difference or how much of one there was.
“Do you even know how old he is?”
Leeah paused. “Well....not specifically...”
“Let me ask you this: How old are you?”
Gail gave her a look. “He’s old enough to be your father. He’s 56.”
“So?” That made it what? 22? Hell, her father was 16 years older than her mother. But something bothered Leeah...
“I mean, it’s no big deal, a lot of women date older men.”
“If it’s no big deal, why’d you bring it up?”
“Well it’s...I dunno. Maybe because other people have been talkin’...”
“What other people?”
Gail paused, realizing she’d cross Leeah a bit. “Just...other people. We’ve noticed you and him together. I mean, it’s nice that Cully’s with somebody but people have been talkin’--”
“What have they been saying?”
“Just...talk, you know?”
“What have they been saying??” Leeah demanded.
Gail knew she was in trouble now. “Look, Leeah, if you and Cully are happy together, that’s all that matters--”
“WHAT have they been saying, Gail??”
Gail sighed. “They’ve been joking around a bit. That Cully stayed single all these years so he could rob the cradle. Some of the guys were wondering if Cully can even...um...”
Leeah rolled her eyes. “God dammit....”
“Others don’t think you guys will last very long.”
“Tell everybody to go to hell!” Leeah exclaimed and stormed off to the door. She went out to the parking lot, tears already in her eyes. She stopped by her Firebird and cried for a moment. How could people say things like that??
And how embarrassing...it had to be for Cully, she thought. Good grief, he didn’t even look 56. Maybe they were wrong...maybe he was really in his late 40’s. Or early 50’s. But why did it matter? Leeah knew there was an age difference, but she hadn’t paid attention to it before.
She buried her face in her hands. Now suddenly, everything bothered her.
“Leeah?” Cully jogged over from the door to her. “What’s the matter?”
“People,” she muttered. “Stupid people!”
“Yeah, I head. God damn idiots...”
Cully sighed and put his arm around her. “Just ignore ‘em, Leeah. They’re exactly that. God damn idiots.”
“Who don’t know when to keep their mouths shut!”
Cully consoled her for a moment. “Listen, why don’t we just get outta here?”
Leeah nodded and Cully opened the passenger door. They were soon heading towards the hills where the city lights would be their landscape.
“Does it bother you?” Cully asked. “I mean, the age thing...?”
“I didn’t even think about it until Gail said something. She points out the fact that you’re older than me and then says, ‘Oh but it’s no big deal!’ Sheesh!”
“Makes you wonder why they say anything at all.”
“Yeah, really...” Leeah paused, listening to the healthy growl of the Firebird as Cully shifted gears. She watched the lights of LA come into view as they came onto the highway and took a deep breath.
The radio wasn’t on, but Cully suddenly heard a soft voice singing.
“ ‘Cuz we’re living in a world of fools, breaking us down. When they all should let us be....’ ”
He smiled. “That’s a pretty voice you got there.”
Leeah looked at him appreciatively. “Thanks.”
“What song is that?”
“ ‘How Deep is Your Love’ by the Bee Gees.”
“No kiddin’? You mean, you listen to something other than hard rock?”
Leeah burst out laughing. “Oh Cully. I listen to all kinds of music.”
He grinned. “Well that line you just sang is true. But Leeah, if the age thing bothers ya, you gotta tell me.”
“I know. I’m too mad at everybody right now to tell if it does or doesn’t.”
“I understand. But please...tell me, okay?”
For three days, Leeah thought about it. When they went out, they didn’t go the Palomino but to other resteraunts. The only time things seemed okay, was when they watched the sun set, but for two nights they couldn’t on account of the weather. Leeah couldn’t help but notice people watching them when they went into a resteraunt. She was sure they could tell, based on how close Cully was standing to her, that she and him were not father and daughter.
Leeah couldn’t stand the looks and Cully could sense something was wrong. One afternoon after finishing his work on the picture, he drove to her apartment to confront her on the issue. Her answer was not what he was expecting.
“Leave California?!?” Cully exclaimed. “You...” He stared at her a moment, his voice softening. “You don’t mean that....do ya? Damn it all, Leeah, I don’t want ya to leave.”
“But Cully, if I stay I’m just gonna be an embarassment to you. Everybody making jokes about us, and stupid comments. I don’t want you to have to put up with that.”
“You wouldn’t be an embarrassment. Hell, I don’t care about what everybody’s sayin’. What do they know anyway, right? It’s like that song ya quoted, remember? ‘We’re living in a world of fools.’ That’s what they all are. A buncha fools.” He stepped towards her and gently put a hand on her shoulder, turning her to him. “Leeah, I don’t want ya to go,” he said softly. “Please, don’t.”
She tried to swallow her choked up tears but it was no use. She looked up at Cully as two tear drops escaped from her eyes and she shook her head. There was no way they could be happy with people snickering behind their backs, and using them as the butt end of jokes. Telling them how a May-December romance could never last. ‘Reminding’ them of their age difference, how he was either too old for her, or she too young for him.
Leeah didn’t want Cully to have to be subjected to that. Not after getting him to finally open his heart and come out of his shell a bit. Cruel as it seemd, Leeah believed it was best for the both of them if they didn’t let it go any further. Even though he was saying he didn’t care about what people were saying, deep down it had to have had some kind of effect on him.
Leeah told him that too. She also told him that this wasn’t because she didn’t care for him. It was very much the opposite. She cared about him tremendously, more than she thought she could ever care about someone. And that was why she believed it should be this way.
To Cully, his heart was breaking. But he understood what Leeah was saying. Atleast, he thought he did. Gently, he cupped her face in his hands and looked at her sorrowful eyes. She started to shake with a silent sob.
“Shh...it’s okay, Leeah. It’s alright.” He kissed her hair and held her head against his shoulder. He wanted to tell her that he loved her, but to say it would have made things worse. Thing was, he did love her.
* * *
The hours passed slowly. Cully ran out of beer at his apartment so he drove to the Palomino. Already three quarters plastered from his binge at home, he finished off a bottle of tequila and half a bottle of whiskey before the alcohol finally did him in, and he passed out in the middle of the floor.
Debbie and her husband, Andy, a former stunt man who owned the Palomino, carried Cully to the office behind the bar. They laid him out on the couch, face down and then looked at each other.
“I’m gonna call Sonny,” Andy said. “It’s been a long time since Cully got this drunk, and to be honest, I don’t like it.”
Debbie shook her head in agreement and took one more look at Cully before following Andy out of the office.
Cully’s Subaru Brat was so haphazardly parked infront of the Palomino it took up two spaces. Sonny parked his truck beside it and went into the bar, which was quickly becoming full of it’s usual crowd of regulars.
“Where is he?” Sonny asked Debbie when he got to the bar. Debbie put her towel down and nodded to Sonny as she walked down the bar towards the door that led to the office. Sonny followed.
She opened the door and let Sonny go in. Cully was sitting up now and he looked over at Sonny and then dropped his gaze. He felt like hell, and the last thing he wanted was for Sonny to be chewing him out.
The door quietly closed and Sonny stepped towards his friend. “What’s the matter, Cully?”
“Drank too much,” Cully replied.
“That’s what Andy told me. Says you ain’t done anything like this for a long time, and he’s right.” Sonny grabbed the chair at the desk and set it down across from Cully. “Talk to me buddy, what’s going on?”
Cully’s head tilted a bit and he squinted. The dull lamp on the desk was harsh on his eyes. “Leeah... ‘s leaving California...”
Sonny didn’t get what the problem was at first. “Huh?”
“She’s leaving,” Cully explained and looked at Sonny. His best friend was nothing but a blur. “She’s leavin’...everything. Me....everything.”
“You mean...you broke up??”
Cully nodded. “If that’s...what they call it...yeah.”
“Shit! What the hell for?”
“Because...” Cully waved his hand towards the door. “Idiots...poking fun at it. They’s tellin’ her I’m too old for her...” Cully teetered a bit and planted his hand on the arm rest of the couch to keep his balance. “They think I can’t...” He looked at Sonny and snickered. “You know....”
Sonny raised an eyebrow. “Get it up?”
Cully snickered again. “Yeah...” He then paused in thought. “I’ll admit it’s been a long time, but...aw hell, maybe this is fer the best. If I can’t please her, it’ll save from being an embarassing moment.”
Poor Sonny was really trying hard to understand what the hell Cully was rambling about. “Cully wait a minute. Is that why you guys split?”
Cully shook his head, his dark grey and black hair swinging with the motion. “Naw, man....we never got that far. She don’t want us to be the subject of folk’s comments.”
Cully gestured towards the door again. “Them folks... a few nights ago, they got their amusement.”
Sonny scowled. “God dammit. Now who cares what everybody thinks?”
“That’s kinda what I said...” Cully leaned back and rested his head on the back of the couch. “Don’t make no difference, Sonny...maybe I ain’t good enough for her anway...besides what could she see in me? I ain’t nothin’ but washed up. A drunk old goat.” He shook his head. “She can do better than me...”
“I’ll tell ya what she sees in you! She sees a man who cares about her, respects her and is a friend. Remember that, Cully? You’re her friend right?? You ain’t forgotten that have you? You’re a hell of a lot better for her than that sorry excuse, Jason.”
Sonny watched Cully. His friend’s blood shot eyes looked at the ceiling, deep in thought. They were distant, lost... Cully wanted to know how to make the pain go away. If the booze didn’t help, being sober was going to be a nightmare. He just could not stop thinking about her.
After a moment, Sonny dragged Cully out of the Palomino. The older stunt man fell against the hood of Sonny’s truck.
“Wait a minute..wait a minute..”
“You gonna be sick?” Sonny asked, grabbing Cully’s arm.
Cully shook his head. “No...I think...I’m gonna...pass...out...”
Sonny held on to Cully as the older stuntman slipped into unconciousness. “Hang on, Cully....hang on.” Sonny managed to open the passenger door of the truck and pushed Cully up into the seat.
Sonny left Cully at the ranch and under the watchful eye of Gwen. He headed back to town to have a talk with Leeah.
In the same time Cully was drowning himself in liquor, Leeah had sat alone in her room, her stereo softly playing slow sad songs and she just cried her eyes out. She thought of the times spent with him, the sunsets, the feel of his arms around her. She felt like a fool. After she had finally got him, she went and let him go. All because of what people were saying. Thing was, the things people said...that had hurt.
Leeah tossed another tissue at the waste basket, missing it. The white ball softly hit the carpet and she cried more. She pulled a fresh tissue from the nearly empty box when a knock sounded at the door.
“Leeah? Leeah, it’s Sonny, I gotta talk to ya.”
“Aw geez...” She quickly wiped the tears off her face and stood up, taking a deep breath as she walked to the door. She paused a moment and then opened it.
Sonny looked at her. “I figured you wouldn’t be any better off. Leeah...why? Why’d you and Cully break up?”
“Oh Sonny!” Leeah exclaimed, new tears forming. She turned away, bringing the tissue to her eyes. “Everybody was making fun of us, cuz he’s older than me. Everybody looking at us weird.” She shook her head. “Cully didn’t need to have that.”
“Cully didn’t need to have all that alcohol in the last few hours either.”
Leeah turned quick back to Sonny. “What...?”
“I found him at the Palomino, more drunk than I’ve seen him in a long time.” Slowly, he stepped towards her. “Cully needs you, Leeah. He doesn’t care what other people think, he only cares about you. I really think you outta re-think things a bit. If you leave...it’s gonna kill him.”
Leeah brought her hands to her face. “Oh Sonny....” She shook her head, her voice choked with tears.
“Leeah, listen to me,” he said, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Please, just think it over some more. Forget what everbody’s sayin’. Hell, take Cully with ya if ya want! But if you leave him like this...” Sonny shook his head. “He’s already not taking it well.”
Leeah closed her eyes. Sonny gave her shoulder a pat and then turned to leave. He glanced back at Leeah and saw she was still quietly crying. He hoped she would change her mind. As he closed the door, he really hoped....
* * *
A day later, Cully sobered enough to get ready for the big stunt. He still felt like hell and doing the stunt, which Leeah was originally supposed to do, only made him think of her more. He missed her terribly and wondered how she was doing.
Leeah was thinking of him too. She stared out her living room window at the street below, thinking of the awful stunt that he was going to be doing. She was worried. If he had been drinking like Sonny had said, she couldn’t figure how he could manage the stunt. He needed every reflex working for it. She would have rather had them cancel it all together.
Her concern became so much that she knew she couldn’t not be there. So she called Gwen to ask a favor, if she could be driven to the track to see the stunt.
“Sure,” Gwen said. “You’re worried about Cully aren’t you?”
“Yeah. I’m not so sure he should be doing it, Gwen. After all that’s happened...”
“I’ll be right over to get ya, Leeah.”
Cully walked alone across the infield, his stunt helmet tucked under his left arm, his driving gloves in his left hand. He tugged at the collar of his driving suit, knowing he wasn’t going to be able to stand the irritation of the flame retardent material that made up the lining. He thought nothing of climbing out of that car with the whole suit on fire. Hell, he’d done that several times in his career. But this damn collar... He tugged on it some more and reached the stock car that was parked on the straight away, waiting for him.
The sun was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds. The weather was perfect, the track was dry and free of debris. Everything was set.
Cully tossed his helmet and gloves into the racer and then climbed in. His head pounded a little and then faded. He squinted taking a deep breath and then picked up his driving gloves and put them on.
Gwen and Leeah got through the crowd, thanks to the security guard and found a spot on the other side of the track, near one of the cameras that was set up. Gwen pointed as the race car started to move.
Sonny jogged over to the racer and met up with it as Cully moved the car into position.
“You feelin’ alright?”
“Yeah, yeah I’m fine, Sonny.” Cully pulled the strap out of his helmet and put it on. He fixed the strap and then looked at his friend.
“Listen, be careful out there okay?”
“Gettin’ damn cautious in yer old age ain’t ya?”
“Dammit, Cully, I’m worried because you’ve got too much on your mind!”
“I can do the stunt, don’t worry. Ain’t nothin’ on my mind at the moment other than finishing this stunt. Now get off the track before you get bar-b-que’d.”
Sonny sighed and patted the door frame of the racer. Cully watched him walk back to where the director was standing. He appreciated his friend’s concern, but Sonny was right. Cully had other stuff on his mind, and he was trying as hard as he could to concentrate on doing the stunt.
Once everything was set and ready, the director called for his camera men, while the race cars started around the track. Cully checked his switches and monitored his gages. When all the cameras reported ready, the director yelled for action.
The crowd got into it by cheering on the race cars as they roared past the grand stand. Cully shifted gears and pulled along side the race car infront of him. He got under it going into the turn and they came out with Cully taking the lead. They ran two laps like that and coming out of turn three on the second lap, Cully flipped two switches on his dash.
The second car came up on the right side of Cully’s racer. They were soon trading paint and Cully let the car drift towards the infield retaining wall. The second car hit him again and Cully hit the gas, letting the stock car collide with the retaining wall.
The race car soared into the air and came down hard on the pavement. It rolled with it’s still forward going velocity along the wall and the back end blew out in flames as it came to stop on it’s wheels. The fire wrapped around from the back end and started to travel across the body of the car.
Gwen and Leeah were watching anxiously, as was everyone. People in the crowd were on their feet. Leeah could see Cully move slightly....was he trying to get his seat belt loose...?
He was taking too long. The fire had engulfed the whole car by now...
Leeah started to panic. The stunt was supposed to be that the driver climbed out just as the car is slowly becoming engulfed in flames. But the fire was too much. “Oh God, Gwen! He should be outta there by now! He should be outta there!!”
Gwen watched the burning car and then ran after Leeah, who suddenly bolted down the straight away towards the opening to the track.
Sonny was watching in a panic too. Come on Cully, get the hell outta there! He then heard shouting from behind him and he turned to see Leeah, and Gwen behind her, running towards him. He stepped out and grabbed Leeah before she could continue barrelling towards the car.
“Sonny! We gotta git him outta there!!”
“Not if you wanna get burned to a crisp!”
“Dammit, Sonny!” Leeah stared at the car. Cully was still moving, slowly starting to climb out of the car, his fire suit flickering. Sonny turned to look just as the director yelled “CUT!” Five men with fire extinguishers ran to the car and started to spray it, and it’s driver with the white foam. Cully was well protected by his fire suit and helmet with face mask. He dropped to his knees as he was pelted with the retardent material. When the fire was out completely, he collapsed to the pavement.
“Oh my Lord,” Leeah cried. "Cully!" She and Sonny ran out to him and kneeled down beside the fallen stuntman as others of the crew gathered around.
“Cully? Cully, come on buddy, tell me yer alright,” Sonny said. Cully’s fire suit was still hot to the touch, and Sonny had to hesitently grabbed at the helmet to get it off. When he got it off, Cully’s eyes drooped open and closed.
Leeah placed his face in her hands. “Cully...”
The older stuntman opened his eyes and looked at her. His pupils were dilated to the point that she couldn’t see the color.
“Leeah...” Slowly he moved his arm until his rough driving glove was touching her arm.
“Hang on, Cully, you’re gonna be alright.”
He pulled on her a little bit and she leaned down to hear him.
“I love you...” he whispered hoarsely.
Leeah bit her lip as the fire inside her burned with her tears. “I love you too, Cully. Please, hang on...”
But Cully couldn’t fight the sleep. With Leeah’s cheek still against his, he closed his eyes and slipped into unconciousness.
At the hospital, two hours later, Sonny leaned on the bed railing that was down and focused his gaze on Cully, who was sitting up. “Why’d you take so long gettin’ outta that car?”
Cully was quiet. He wouldn’t look at Sonny.
“Come on, Cully. You and I have known each other for a long time. And we’ve been through a lot. Now why did you take so long getting out of that car?”
Cully continued to stare down at his bed sheet. “I’m too old for this shit, Sonny,” he said softly.
“Were you trying to take yourself out with that stunt?” Sonny asked, getting to the point.
Cully remained silent. He neither affirmed or denied it.
“That’s it, isn’t it? You were hoping to go out in a blaze of glory with that stunt! God dammit, Cully, what could possess you to want to do that??”
Cully’s eyes still remained down cast. They had been through a lot. Hell, it seemed like they had been though everything together. But for the first time in his life, Cully couldn’t bring himself to look at his best friend. He couldn’t tell him what was happening inside him, he just didn’t believe Sonny could possibly understand.
Sonny sat down on the edge of the bed. “Cully, look at me.”
Cully hesitated and then turned his eyes up to Sonny. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Is it Leeah?”
Cully paused and nodded. “I don’t want her to leave, Sonny,” he said. “I really don’t...”
“Did you tell her that?”
“Maybe you gotta tell her again.”
“Cully, what Gail said at the Palomino that night obviously bothered Leeah, but not you right?”
“Well, then you gotta make her understand that what Gail or anybody else says, don’t matter.”
“But I want her to be happy. And if she ain’t gonna be happy here with me...”
“So you were gonna burn yerself alive in that car instead! You think THAT would have made her happy?!”
Cully closed his eyes and brought his hand to his face. He took a deep breath. “It hurts, Sonny,” he said softly, his inner emotional battle evident in his shakey voice. “I know it was stupid but I wasn’t thinking of doing it to hurt Leeah. Hell, I wasn’t even really thinking of checkin’ out until I had already flipped the car over...but I guess deep down....aw dammit. I just don’t want to go through the heartbreak again.” He looked at Sonny. “You can understand that, can’t ya?”
Sonny nodded. “Sure. Have you thought of maybe leaving LA with Leeah?”
“A little bit. It’d be hard to leave tho’...”
“Well, you either gotta convince her to stay here with you or you gotta go with her. You can’t give up on her, Cully. She means too damn much to you, I can tell. You can’t let this slip away from you.”
Cully swallowed and nodded. “I know...I love her, Sonny.” He felt a little awkward saying it, but he knew in his heart that what he felt towards Leeah was really love.
Sonny gave a tiny smile. “I know ya do. And I know you’ve told her that.” He watched Cully try to force a smile, but the older stunt man just didn’t have it in his heart at the moment. “Listen, Leeah’s outside. Do you wanna see her?”
Cully thought for a moment. “Not yet. I need some time to myself first. I need some time to think.”
Sonny nodded. “Alright.” He gave Cully’s shoulder a pat of encouragement. “You’re gonna be okay, Cully.”
The older stunt man nodded. “Thanks, Sonny.”
When Sonny came around the corner into the waiting room, Leeah got up from her seat and quickly approached him.
“How is he?”
“He’s alright.” Sonny paused. “Listen, he knows you’re here but he needs some time alone first.”
Leeah nodded. “I understand,” she said. Her eyes went down cast for a bit and then she looked back at Sonny. “Did he say anything about the stunt? He took an awfully long time getting out of that car.”
Sonny hesitated. He couldn’t bring himself to tell her what Cully had contemplated doing, but he knew he had to give her some kind of answer. “I think the stunt was too much for him, Leeah. I mean, he’s a damn good stunt man but...he ain’t no spring chicken any more.”
“I think he had a lot on his mind too...”
“Yeah...” And she knew what he had on his mind too. Leeah suddenly felt extrememly guilty and realized that Cully may have been thinking...
“Oh Sonny,” she said. “It’s me, ain’t it?”
“You don’t understand. What I said to him a few days ago--”
“Leeah,” Sonny gently took her by the shoulders, forcing her to look at him. “It’s not you. It’s....his past.” He paused and drew in a heavy sigh. “Leeah...he loves you and he doesn’t want you to leave. He really, really cares about you, and I know you care about him.”
Leeah nodded, her eyes starting to become misty. “I do...” she said. “I’m not leaving, Sonny. I’ve realized I love him too much, I’m not gonna leave him...”
* * *
The next day the doorbell at Leeah’s apartment rang, causing the stunt woman to sprint down the hall from the other end. Gwen had called and told her Sonny was picking Cully up at the hospital, and Leeah hoped that Cully would come to see her. Otherwise she would be going to see him one way or the other. She stopped in the living room and looked out the window to the street below. She saw Sonny’s blue GMC truck and he was behind the wheel. The passenger side was empty.
A knock sounded at the door. “Leeah?”
“Cully...” she whispered, turning towards the door. She ran to it and pulled it open. Giving Cully no time to even say ‘hi’ she threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders.
“Cully, I’m sorry...I so sorry...”
Cully slipped his arms around her, pulling her as close to him as possible. He held her tight for a moment as she continued her apology in between snifles.
“Leeah...” He let go a little so he could look at her. “Will you stay?”
She nodded. “I’m gonna stay.” She gave him a smile. “With you. I’m staying. I was silly to think to leave anyway, just because of what people were saying.”
“No, I understand. You just gotta remember that...” He lowered his voice. “I don’t give a shit what anybody else thinks or says. You got to me, Leeah.” He grinned. “And I like it, and I sure as hell ain’t gonna let you get away!”
Leeah laughed and hugged him again.
* * *
It happened one more time though. Sonny, Cully, Jocko, Gwen and Leeah were hanging out at the Palomino when one of the stunt guys, who had had more than his limit it seemed, came waltzing over to their table.
They all looked at him as he started rambling on about how lucky Cully was to have a “pretty young thing” like Leeah.
“Umm...thing?” Leeah said.
Cully could see her eyes were clouded over in annoyance. “Um...listen, Steve, if you go away, I’ll buy ya a beer,” he said.
“Naw, wait a minute, I wanna know what he means by ‘thing.’” Leeah glanced at Cully and then back at Steve. “I’m not a thing. I’m a grown woman, capable of making my own decisions. I’m not sombody’s arm candy nor am I a trophy for their mantle.”
“Hey...hold on,” Steve said. “I was just saying that Cully’s lucky to find a pretty woman like you. I didn’t mean nothin’ by ‘thing.’ However, you are young.” Steve looked at Cully. “You keepin’ up with her okay there, granpa?” He laughed loudly.
“Who you callin’ granpa?” Jocko said, trying to draw Steve’s attention away from Cully and Leeah. “Hell, I’m older than he is!”
Steve giggled and teetered a bit. He looked at Leeah. “If you’re waitin’ for him to kick the bucket to collect some great fortune, you can forget it. He ain’t got one!”
“Will you shut up, Steve, and go away?” Cully said. For crying out loud, is it something in the beer? Cully looked at his and decided not to have any more.
Steve was still giggling at his own joke when Leeah slowly stood up. Cully and Sonny thought she was going to hit him, but she simply put her hand on his shoulder and said, “Tell me something, you got a girlfriend?”
Steve slowly stopped giggling. “No...”
“Hmm.” Leeah nodded. “Figures. See, you keep up that kinda attitude you probably won’t ever. Older, younger....dead or alive.” She pushed him now. “Go to hell.”
Steve staggered away, looking over his shoulder with a dirty look at Leeah. He then left, like a dog with it’s tail tucked.
Everyone laughed as Leeah sat back down next to Cully.
“Nice shot,” Jocko complimented.
Cully put his arm around Leeah’s waist as Sonny agreed.
“That oughta shut him up for awhile.”
“It better,” Leeah said. “Or I’m gonna have to start carrying duct tape around.” She grinned.
Despite her standing up to Steve, Cully still had a peculiar fear knawing at him. When Leeah was ready to leave, he drove her home, and asked her several times if she was okay.
“Cully, I’m fine,” she said as they got to her door.
“You sure? You ain’t thinkin’ a’ leavin’ again or anything like that are ya?”
“Cully, no. I ain’t gonna leave.”
“I’m sure!” She chuckled and then looked at him seriously. “Cully, I mean it, I ain’t gonna leave or any thing like that. Don’t worry, ‘k?”
He looked at her, only half satisfied. “Alright. I just don’t want what Steve said to get you thinkin’...”
“Cully...” She put her hands on his arms. “I. Am. Not. Leaving. K?”
Cully tried to hide his smile. “Okay,” he said and looked at her. “Alright.”
She smiled at him and then looked at him seriously. “Listen, um....take it easy on the booze ok?”
“I know...I ain’t gonna drink much. That’s if I go back. I may just go home and go to bed.”
Leeah laughed. “Now you’re starting to sound like me!”
Cully did go back to the Palomino, but he didn’t plan to stay long. Jocko got Cully alone at a table just before Cully left and gave him some words to consider.
“Yup, hell, ain’t nothing like the life of a Hollywood stunt man! Up all night drinkin’ just to make the pain and heart ache fade away for a little while, then you get up the next morning and your eyes feel like they’re on fire, you go to the lot do your stunt and deep down....waaaay deep down you think that maybe...just maybe this’ll be the stunt that sends you out in a blaze of glory.” He eyed Cully. “That’s what it’s all about for you now ain’t it? Isn’t that what you kept thinking...possibly silently prayin’ to have happen with that stunt a few days ago? Only because there ain’t really anything else for you to do and the harsh reality now is that you’re getting too damn old for stunt work, Cully. You can’t keep up with Ski there, and you sure as hell couldn’t keep up with Sonny either. Now look at Leeah. She had a promisin’ stunt driving career ahead of her and now she ain’t gonna be able to do that. Why don’t you take her, Cully? She’s a woman who wants to care for you and you want to care for her. Stop making excuses for yourself and give that girl something to believe in.”
Jocko held his hand up. “Don’t just tell her, Cully. Show her that you want her to stay and that you want her to stay with you. I think that’s what she wants to see.”
Cully looked at Jocko and then down at the table top in thought.
“I saw the look on your face when Steve was talkin’. You’re afraid she’s gonna think to leave again ain’t ya?”
Cully paused. “A little.”
“I don’t think she’s going to, but you gotta show her how much you care, Cully. You can tell her all the time, but you gotta show her too. You understand what I’m talking about don’t you?”
Cully was silent for a moment and then nodded. “Yeah.”
Jocko grinned and nodded. “She’s a keeper, Cul. You better hang on to her.”
Thirty minutes later, Cully stood outside Leeah’s apartment door for several moments, Jocko’s words echoing in his head. He knew the door was unlocked, she had told him she often left it unlocked because of a friend of hers, who would crash in the living room some nights if she had had too much to drink. But for some reason, Cully felt like a burglar. He went so far as to open the door, but then quietly closed it again.
His emotions were killing him. He was scared now...scared that she might think he didn’t want her to stay, that he had only said he wanted her to, to be nice or something. And that wasn’t true. He wanted her to stay.
A touch of courage came to him and he opened the door gently again. The lamp at the side of the room softly eluminated the apartment and Cully made his way across the floor. He quietly walked into Leeah’s room. He’d never done anything like this before, but then again he’d never really felt this way before. He knew she said she wasn’t going to leave California, but he had to know for sure. He had to know because he wanted her stay....with him. To hell with what everyone was saying.
Leeah awoke to the sound of denim rustling. She opened her eyes and turned her head slightly, seeing him in the soft light from the street. “Cully?”
“It’s me,” he said, not wanting to startle her too much. He came around to her side of bed and sat down on the edge of it.
Leeah sat up. “Cully, what’s wrong?”
“You’re really not gonna leave, right?” He was nearly holding her, one arm stradled over her, the other gently gripping her right arm. His question was more a plea, which Leeah couldn’t help but notice.
“No, Cully,” she said assuringly. “I’m not going to leave. I told you I wasn’t.”
“I know. I know that’s what you said....but...”
“I’m not leaving,” she said with stern kindness. “I’m staying right here...” She touched her hand to the side of his face. “...with you, Cully. I’m staying here.”
Now he held her. Leeah figured there was one more way to reassure him, to prove her promise. Slowly she leaned towards him and when he didn’t back away, their lips lightly brushed together.
“Leeah,” he whispered when she looked up at him. Her kiss... “I ain’t never felt something this strong before...”
“I know,” she said. “I don’t think I have either. Don’t fight it, Cully.” She smoothed the side of his black and grey hair and sideburn. “Don’t fight it...”
Cully drew her closer to him and hesitantly leaned to kiss her. They touched briefly, as if he was testing the waters, then once their lips met in a real kiss, he realized he suddenly felt alive. It seemed as though all the physical pain from years of stunt work and the pain from the broken heart he had spent years hiding had melted away. Like a burden lifted, his heart pounded with a new sense of purpose, and with joy knowing it could love again.
When their lips parted, he looked at her. In the faint light he saw her smile and he smiled too. She then drew him back to her and they held each other tight.
“Listen, Cully, why don’t you stay here tonight?” Leeah said after a moment.
She felt him stiffen a little, and she realized her offer was a bit more suggestive than she meant. She giggled. “I don’t mean that! Just crash here for the night.”
She pulled back a bit to look at him. “If you want to.”
He could feel her fingers tickling the end of his hair at the back of his head. He leaned his head back a bit and smiled. “You’re a hard woman to resist.”
“Hmmm....” She grinned at him. “I take that to be an affirmative?”
“Oh yeah,” he said, and they fell back against the pillows laughing.
The next morning Leeah woke up to see Cully snoozing in the chair in the corner. His denim jacket was laid over him and his black hat was tipped down below his eyes. She grinned and decided he looked pretty good asleep too. Quietly, she got up and grabbed her bath robe. She pulled it around her and left her room for a moment. She then came back and walked over to him.
He didn’t stir as she stepped closer to him. She leaned towards him until she was only inches from his face. Without a word she softly kissed him on the cheek, close to his lips but not on them. He stirred and drew in a sigh.
She pushed his hat up. “Good morning.”
He gave a groggy smile. “Hello.”
“Say, you wouldn’t mind if I went with ya to the track today would ya? I kinda miss it.”
“Wouldn’t mind at all.”
They took Leeah’s Firebird, stopped at Cully’s place long enough for him to change his shirt and then were on their way. The ‘bird was all alone at the light, until a growling yellow muscle car pulled up along the passenger side.
Leeah glanced at the front fender of the car but that was it. And that was enough. Her heart jumped.
“Cully,” she said. “The car next to us...”
Cully turned to look. Sure enough, it was Jason and he was looking at them. Slowly, he removed his sunglasses, revealing intense, dangerous eyes.
“Hey old timer, think you still got it to out drive me?”
“Just ignore him, Leeah,” Cully said softly.
Jason paused. “Yeah....let me tell you something. I’m gonna leave you, this puke car and you, bitch, all over the road. You better hope the old timer here can drive. Otherwise, they’re gonna be scraping you off the pavement.”
Neither Leeah or Cully replied. They were both watching the light waiting for it to turn green. Leeah was shaking, not liking Jason this close to her. Suddenly the red clicked to green and the Firebird’s tires smoked as Cully popped the clutch and slammed the gas. He pulled ahead of the Plymouth enough to get a good lead and the two cars roared through the intersection.
“Cully, I thought he was in jail!!”
“So did I!”
The chase roard down the strip, the two cars weaving in and out of the early morning traffic. Horns blared and tired squealed.
“If I can get ahead of him, I’m gonna drop you off somewhere. If he starts ramming this car, it could be bad for you.”
“I ain’t arguing with you, Leeah. One bad hit to this car and that could be it for you! I’m not gonna to give him the opportunity!”
Using the side streets and traffic to his advantage, Cully managed to loose Jason long enough to pull over behind a Ford pick up truck. He glanced in his mirrors.
“Hide behind the truck,” he said. “Go on.”
Leeah leaned over and quickly gave Cully a kiss. “You be careful.”
“I will. I’ll buy ya another Firebird if I have to. Now git!”
Leeah scrambled out of the car and ran to the truck. She hid behind it as the Firebird drove away. A moment later, the yellow Plymouth went roaring by and then tires squealed as Jason made the turn down the other street. Leeah looked around and then spotted a pay phone across the street. When a break came in the traffic, she quickly crossed the street, pulling a dime from her pocket.
Cully slowed up a bit, waiting for Jason to catch up. When he spotted the yellow car in the rearview mirror, Cully pushed on the accelerator and the chase continued.
Heading into LA, Sonny’s blue GMC truck was beating a path to help Cully. Gwen was about a mile or so behind him and was going to pick up Leeah. The young woman’s frantic phone call had left both Sonny and Gwen a little confused. Last they knew, Jason was in jail. Why was he out? They were also scared for Cully. Tearing around LA was different than driving around a closed track. If he didn’t get hurt, it was possible somebody else could.
Cully was thinking the same thought as he aimed the Firebird for the expressway. It was his only chance against Jason, and getting the attention of a CHiP officer wouldn’t have hurt.
“I’m lookin’ for a white 1971 Firebird,” Sonny broadcasted over his CB. “White Firebird being tailed by a yellow Barracuda. Anybody out there seen it?” Leeah was going to have to get a CB radio for her car.
Sonny got a flurry of responses. Several folks had seen the chase as it tore onto the highway. Anybody on the expressway who had a CB radio was talking about it.
“Much obliged!” Sonny dropped the mike and turned the truck down a side
Cully weaved the Firebird through traffic on the highway, the Plymouth right behind him. Jason managed to catch up, bumped the back fender of the ‘bird a couple of times, almost sending Cully into the guard rail. Tire marks were being left all over the highway, and horns were blaring as drivers pulled their cars away from the two fighting muscle cars. The Firebird was in it’s top gear and Cully couldn’t shake the Cuda. It was time to get off the highway.
Where the hell are those CHiP’s??? They NOW decide on a coffee break?? Cully spotted the next exit and glanced at the passenger side mirror of the Firebird. He cut the car across the four lanes of traffic and slipped down the off ramp, with Jason right on his tail.
Cully down shifted and blared the horn. This was where it got dangerous. The traffic lights at the end of the ramp were all red, and to cut through the intersection was an invitation for more than a fender bender. Cully quickly surveyed the traffic and decided instead to jump the curb and cut over to the intersecting road. The ‘bird’s nose went up a bit and the car ripped up the nicely manicured grass as it tore towards the road. The Plymouth followed.
Cars squealed to a stop as Cully and Jason lept off the other curb and back onto pavement. The two cars were gone in a matter of moments, leaving stunned motorists and a little debris and rubber in the wake.
Cully was running out of options. Jason apparently was on a kamikazi
mission, Cully thought, as the nose of the Plymouth nudge the tail
of the Firebird. Cully wondered if he could play a little possum. Act
like the Firebird was damaged and slow down and then pull away before
Jason figured out what was really going on. But with the way the Cuda
was now ramming the back end and back to nudging the fender again,
Cully wasn’t going to have to play at nothing.
Sonny was still getting voices over his CB. The chase had left the highway, Parson Street exit. The blue GMC screamed down the highway and Sonny could see the tire marks that had been left behind by Cully and Jason. He headed for the exit and as he came down the ramp, he saw the ripped up grass on the knoll and knew he had to be getting close. Luckily for him, the lights were green and he quickly turned onto the road and hit the accelerator.
The Firebird was sputtering now. Cully shifted gears, trying to find a happy medium for the car but the ‘bird couldn’t take anymore abuse. Cully kept his foot on the gas, figuring he’d probably throw a rod, or blow the transmission completely before this was over with. He wondered how much a new Firebird cost...
Sonny saw the tail end of the Plymouth as the chase went down a side street. He cut the truck down another side street, figuring he could cut Jason off.
As the GMC was barrelling along, the Firebird finally quit. The engine whined before it blew and Jason slammed into the ‘bird for added emphasis. The Firebird hit the curb and came to a stop, smoke coming out from the underside of the front of the car. Cully watched as the Cuda went up the street a bit and then swung around to come back. Cully yanked on the latch of the door and tried to push it open but the door was jammed in, thanks to Jason. And Cully was too worn out to climb out the window. So he watched wearily as the Plymouth came to a stop on the other side of the street and Jason exited the car.
Like a panther moving in on it’s prey, Jason walked slowly. Nothing could stop him now. Cully watched the young man reach into his pocket and pull out a switchblade knife.
Damn bucket seats... Cully glanced at the console wondering if he could crawl over to the passenger door and get out before Jason got to the car. The young man’s eyes were intense and it was possible he could run to the car before Cully even got to the other door. But Cully had to take the chance. He almost didn’t hear the roaring engine and squealing tires that were approaching. Cully had one leg over the console and looked up in time to see Sonny’s truck come tearing around the corner. The truck came between Jason and the Firebird and the back end swung around past Cully, as Sonny now faced Jason.
The young man glared at Sonny but then dropped his knife when he realized he had a shot gun barrell pointed at him.
Jason went to jail for good. A trial was held, if only for formality, and Jason was found guilty of attempted murder, along with several other charges ranging from his tampering with studio property, to the chase with Cully.
Leeah continued to heal, both physically and emotionally. The picture was finished on time..but slightly over budget. David Peters was pleased with the results and was confident that the film would do well when it was relased. Things began to settle down for everyone. Cully and Leeah enjoyed more time together now that he was done with the picture, and Cully was there when Leeah made her somewhat shakey return to the driver’s seat.
Since Leeah’s Firebird was nothing more than a white pile of parts, Cully went out and found a metallic light green colored 1973 Firebird Formula for $2200. What Cully didn’t realize, was that he had found a rareity considering not many of them had been built that year, but his knowledge of Firebirds was minimal. They were fast, they were good looking. That was about it.
When Leeah got the estimate to repair her car, she nearly cried.
“I bought that car when it was brand new,” she said, looking at Cully from the chair in his living room. “Thirty-four hundred dollars. The estimated repair, which includes replacing the engine, repairs to the suspension, straigtening the fenders and a new paint job...is thirty-seven hundred dollars.”
“Really?” Cully was genuinely surprised.
“Yeah. The good news is that value of the car went up. The bad news, I can’t afford to get it all fixed.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about all that anyway.”
“Nope.” He held his hand out to her and she took it. He lead her outside where the Firebird was parked infront of his Subaru.
“You gotta admit that it was me that wrecked yer car,” he said. “And I said I’d get ya another one if I did.” He gestured to the green Formula.
Leeah was bug eyed. “Cully!” she exclaimed. “You bought--another--? Ahh!” she finished her sputtering with a giggle.
“I told ya I was gonna get ya one. It’s a ‘73 Formula. And it was a lot cheaper than the repairs that you would have to have done on yours.”
“Well, yeah but...Cully, I didn’t expect ya to buy me another car.”
Cully pretended to be offended. “You don’t like it?”
“Oh Cully, I like it! It’s just that...” She looked at him and once she saw those blue eyes, she gave up. “Oh hell, I should just shut my mouth and say thank you shouldn’t I?” She gave him a hug and chuckled. “Thank you, Cully.”
“Well, alright now. That’s more like it.” He grinned and returned the embrace. “You’re welcome.” He then let go and looked at her. “Whadya say we go for a spin?”
Her smile was like fireworks. Like a kid on Christmas morning, she ran around to the driver’s side and got in. Cully got into the car as Leeah was looking around at the interior.
“Okay, Cully, gotta give this car the official Leeah Fredricks initation.”
He nodded. “Okay. Um...you ain’t gonna drive too fast now are ya? You remember what the Doc said...”
“Nope, it’s not that. This doesn’t involve driving, per se.” She put her seat belt on and then started the car. She brought the car out to the middle of the street and waited for Cully to put on his seatbelt.
“Seein’ ya got me an automatic, this is gonna be easy. Ya ready?”
The car sat for a moment and then the quiet of the neighborhood was shattered by squealing tires. The back end of the car disappeared in white smoke and then the Formula took off down the street, leaving bold black marks on the pavement. A stuntwoman’s answer to a movie star’s autograph, the car her black marker the pavement her glossy photograph.
They had a few weeks before he and Sonny and the rest of the Stunt Studs would be working on a new film, and Cully and Leeah spent a lot of time together. They’re rocky start seemed all but forgotten. The comments and odd looks from folks at the Palomino diminished. The feeling they had had when they first started, the first sunset they had watched, returned and everything seemed right with the world.
One evening, after returning to her place, Cully finally got up the nerve to try something. Either that or being alone with her, and being so close to her at that moment...he couldn’t resist his desire for her. As she had all along, Leeah let him move at his own pace. He hesitated at first, not even sure where to put his hands on her, finding himself having to learn how to do it all over again. Without comment, Leeah guided his hands and pressed her body as close to his as possible.
When their kissing became much more passionate, Leeah decided the couch in her living room was too small, so she took him by the hand and led him to her bedroom. Cully followed, even though his heart was pounding. They kissed a little more and sat on the bed and then Leeah leaned back against her pillow, bringing Cully with her. He softly explored her neck and cheek with his lips and then found hers again and they were locked in a passionate kiss. They seperated and then lightly brushed together before Cully looked down at her blouse.
Leeah had no protest as he playfully tugged at opening of the shirt.
He grinned. “Whatchya got here...?”
She giggled and ran her fingers through the side of his hair as he propped his elbows on the bed and started to unbutton the shirt.
His hands were shaking a little. He couldn’t believe this was happening, and he refused to ask if it was real. Heck, why ruin it now? If this is a dream...I don’t wanna wake up, thank you very much! Leeah rested her hands on his shoulders as he undid each button. After the last one, he pulled the shirt open like opening a delicate package.
She saw his eyebrows flutter as he looked. She chuckled. “I don’t have much,” she said.
Cully shrugged and hesitantly touched his finger to the edge of the soft white material of her bra. “It’s enough for me.” He continued to trace along the lace to the middle. His fingers paused near the clip for a moment. “I like what ya got,” he whispered, breathing in her sweet scent. He gently kissed the top of her breast that showed above the material of the bra and then suddenly felt her hands on his, her fingers guiding his as they undid the clip and the material gave way.
Leeah closed her eyes as he carressed her with his hands, his lips. His touch was gentle, loving...unlike anything she had ever known. She breathed deeply and curled her fingers in his hair. He continued to kiss her, breathing her name and then he looked at her. She opened her eyes and looked deeply into his, seeing the silent question being asked. She answered by tracing her fingers along the open collar of his shirt, the light touch of the tips of her fingers on his chest giving him a chill. She nodded.
“I don’t want to rush anything....” he said.
“No rush,” she replied. “Go as far as you want, and just take yer time, Cully...” She brought her hand to the side of his face and drew him to her to kiss him. “Just take your time....”
The End...or is it..? Khee...