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Chapter 28

Race Day

When her alarm went off the next morning Judy wanted nothing more than to hit snooze and roll over but she forced herself out of bed. A quick peek out the window confirmed it was, as Nick put it, O dark thirty out there.

After showering and dressing she slam-dunked her breakfast. She heard Nick coming down the hall as she opened her front door. After a quick kiss, he held the door for her as she brought out the long white wedding dress Fru-Fru had helped her pick out. She held it carefully to keep it from dragging on the ground.

“You're gonna look like a million bucks in that,” Nick whistled appreciatively, seeing it for the first time. He leered and gave her a wolfish howl.

A delighted smile split her face. “And it's all for you, mammal O' mine,” she assured him.

“As long as you don't mind me tearing it off you tonight,” he grinned, pressing the buttons on the elevator to take them down to the garage. Her pheromones were already flooding the tiny space.

“Don't you dare!” she mock-scolded him. “Unless I can do the same thing to your tux,” she added in a sultry tone. She heard his heart shift into high gear and knew he was only moments away from taking her right there and then. The elevator doors opened just then and she ran out before their growing passion could get the better of them. He followed her, growling in frustration.

“Just a few hours more,” she comforted him, wondering who she was really talking to. Her own desires for him had been peaking lately, driving her to distraction when they were together, which was practically all the time.

They hung her dress behind the seat, safe in its flimsy plastic protection then headed for the station. They'd agreed that Judy would drive their cruiser while Nick took the truck. Their office was stacked with supplies for the opening race, including the winner's trophy and he could load it up while she headed out to the track.

After making sure the parking garage was empty she quickly transferred her wedding dress from the truck to the cruiser, kissed him briefly then took off.

She made good time driving through the sleeping city since the traffic lights were still blinking yellow. She only had to slow down once to let a lonely garbage truck go by. The Hoof & Claw was on the way to the track; as she came up she saw the lights on and a few cars, mostly pickups, in the parking lot. She still had some time on her paws and decided to stop in for a minute to get some coffee and check on Robert and Linda.

The doorbell jangled as she went in. Linda looked up. A smile flooded her face when she saw who it was. Aside from a few local farmers, the place was empty. She hurried over to embrace Judy. “Good morning!” she chirped brightly.

Judy hugged her back. “Good morning yourself,” she returned. She nodded at the farmers, gathered around one of the larger round tables, “It looks like the regulars haven't abandoned you.”

“Nope,” Linda laughed. “Country folk are more laid back than you'd think. As long as you don't push anything on 'em, they're willing to live and let live.” Robert rang the bell to signal an order was ready. “I'll be right back,” she said, hurrying off.

Judy nodded at her back and sat down at the counter. Robert waved at her through the window. “How's it going?” he called to her.

“It's good,” she answered. “I just stopped in to get some coffee to go before I get to the track. Once things get going I probably won't have time for anything.”

Linda came back, wiping her hooves on her apron. She filled a styrofoam cup with coffee and sat it in front of her with cream and sugar close by. “It's going to be a madhouse,” she agreed. The doorbell rang as more customers came in. “See?” She hurried away to seat them.

Judy's nose twitched. Her sense of smell might not be as good as Nick's but it didn't need to be when fish patties were on the grill. “Can I get some of those to go?” she called.

“Way ahead of you,” Robert grinned.

She grinned back then busied herself fixing her coffee and putting the lid on. Robert came out with a bag and plopped it in front of her. “On the house,” he smiled. Linda was coming with an order and the doorbell rang again as more customers came in.

Through the window Judy could see headlights as other cars pulled in and knew it was time to go; the breakfast rush was starting. “Thanks!” she sang gaily, grabbing the bag and her coffee. “I'll see you at the track!” Robert and Linda waved briefly at her.

Judy pulled out of the parking, seeing more trucks and cars pulling in as she left. She shook her head when she saw one of them was a news van. It looked like the press was getting an early start too. She wondered if Linda would throw them out or put arsenic in their coffee. She couldn’t find it in her heart to blame her either way.

The smell of Robert's delicious fish patties filled the cruiser before she made it to the race track. Nick pulled in behind her as she was getting out. “I smell fish patties,” he exclaimed excitedly getting out of the truck.

“Is that all you can smell?” she asked in a teasing voice then was immediately embarrassed at herself when he gave her a knowing grin. Before they could say or do anything else their assistants, hired for the day, swarmed the truck to get the boxes of supplies and equipment.

The next few hours were indeed a madhouse just as they'd predicted. There were a million things to do to get ready.

As the sun crept over the horizon, street sweepers, their yellow hazard lights rotating on top, were going around the track to make sure it was clean. Crews armed with brooms moved up and down the stands, cleaning them off as well while others unfurled pennant flags of all the companies who were sponsoring the race. They were fastened to poles along the top of the grandstands, adding a vibrant splash of color to the otherwise drab seating.

Racers began arriving with their cars in tow or on trailers. They pulled into open-sided red and blue tents set up side by side to form a long, covered garage for them. The sound of engines revving soon saturated the crisp morning air along with the smell of rubber, oil, and gas as the racers began a series of last minutes checks and tests. Several gas trucks, donated by local companies, covered with their logos, were lined up to form a temporary gas station.

The concession stands, most of them run by the catering companies that owned the food trucks in town, were opening their windows, firing up their grills, and starting up their generators, adding to the growing clamor. Mouthwatering odors soon wafted around the track, drawing the arriving crowds with their tantalizing offerings. Lines quickly formed, creating a maze other arrivals had to thread on their way in.

Vendors hawking programs, toys, souvenirs, hats, flags, sunglasses, towels, t-shirts, and race branded merchandise of every description yelled out for customers from their own stalls or meandered through the crowds with portable tables full of merchandise hanging around their necks. The track wasn't even officially opened yet and it was already half-full.

As technicians from Gazelle's advance team added to the growing noise with sound checks, and the occasional ear-piercing scream of feedback, news choppers began circling overhead, first one followed by another then another until they filled the sky like a flock of starlings.

The sun was above the horizon and climbing when a Gazelle's motorcade arrived promptly at 8 am, surrounded by dozens of police cars and motorcycles, their lights flashing. They drove through the narrow entrance onto the track then into the pit area to the infield where the enormous stage was almost finished. The crowd went wild with a thunderous roar when Gazelle emerged. She waved at them then vanished into a huge tent with Tyrone hard on her heels.

Chief Bogo, wearing his dress uniform, climbed out of a police van. He nodded at someone inside and Mayor Lionheart stepped out, his wife on his arm. He gave a politician's wave to the crowd then disappeared into the giant tent. Bogo saw Nick and headed over.

“It's getting close to time for you to get changed,” Bogo informed him curtly with a tap on his wristwatch.

Nick shook his head. “I've still got a dozen things to do,” he argued. “It'll just take me a few more minutes then I'll be done.”

Bogo reached over his head and snagged his clipboard out of his surprised paws. “Wrong,” he thundered down at him. “You're done now!” He smiled to take some of the sting out of his words. “Being late for your own wedding is about the dumbest thing you could ever do. Git!”

Nick gave up. “Sir, yes sir,” he said. He headed for the tent.

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