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A DAY AT THE RACES
Emby Quinn (savageredhead@aol.com)
(post Gatchaman #88)

Standard Disclaimer: Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman and all associated characters are the property of Tatsunoko Pro and no infringement of copyright is intended. All other characters are my own creation. --eq

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The smooth purr of the powerful engine filled his ears, sweeter than any music he'd ever heard. His eyes narrowed, focusing on the empty track in front of him. His leather-gloved hands tightened on the steering wheel as his foot bore down on the accelerator, urging the speedometer needle over as far as it would go.

Driving was second nature to Joe Asakura, one of the few things that gave him real joy in this bitter world. When he was behind the wheel of his car, pushing it and himself to the limit, seeing how far and how fast they could go, he felt more alive than he ever thought he could. He'd learned to drive when he was eleven, on mountain roads in the northern reaches of Utoland, and he had been hooked from the moment he'd put his hand on a gearshift. He started hanging out at the track when he was twelve, and at thirteen he'd met Lucy, who had introduced him to the racing crowd. He'd grown a lot that past winter--he was tall for his age, Lucy had taken him for at least sixteen and he had been reluctant to rectify that misconception. She let him drive his car, and she took him into her bed, before she realized the truth--and left in a hurry. The next time he'd seen her, five years later, she'd become a Galactor cyborg, finally destroying herself in an effort to betray the Syndicate.

Joe's jaw tightened, and he pulled the car tighter on the curve than was necessary, struggling to right it again so he didn't crash into the guardrail. Lucy was dead, like so many other people in his past. Like his parents, like Alan and his fiancee. All dead, mostly because of him.

And it was these kinds of thoughts he sought to escape when he was on the track. Mostly when he was driving he tried not to think about anything at all beyond the next curve, the cars in front of him, how much time the last pit stop cost him, and how many laps there were till the finish. Usually he succeeded reasonably well.

His car crossed the finish line, and he started slowing. Of course, today wasn't a race, merely a time trial, and as per usual he'd finished in the pole position. Joe Asakura had a reputation among other drivers for being a maniac behind the wheel--partly because he was Sicilian, and partly because of his seemingly reckless performance on the track. But Joe took a quiet sort of pride in the fact that he'd never caused an accident during a race, never been responsible for the death or injury of any other driver, and that the only time he didn't finish a race was when he was called to duty in the middle of it and he had to fake engine trouble or a fuel leak or some other mishap in order to get off the track.

As he pulled into the pit, he noticed two of his crew engrossed in deep discussion. Tom waved at him distractedly and continued his conversation with Rick. Joe pulled off his helmet and slid nimbly out through the open window. The doors of race cars were supposed to be welded shut, and he couldn't let on that the G-2's weren't.

"Two seconds under your record," Tom told him as he approached. He waved a stopwatch. "The official word from the stands hasn't come down yet, but you're definitely at pole for Saturday."

Joe grunted acknowledgment.

"He's talking to her," Rick said, pointing towards the bleachers. "Check it out."

Tom chuckled. Joe looked where Rick was pointing and saw the third member of his crew, Dave, sitting in the near-empty stands across the track. Beside him was a woman whose features were impossible to discern at this distance; the only remarkable thing about her was an unmistakable mop of fiery red hair.

Joe fought to keep the smirk off his face.

"Well, she hasn't slapped him yet." Tom tipped his bill cap back to take a better look. "Think he'll ask her if she's a natural redhead?"

"I wouldn't be surprised if he asked her to prove it."

"Ten bucks says he doesn't get her name."

"I'm not taking that bet. Look, he's getting up already."

And so he was. Dave turned at the rail to give the woman a last cheerful wave, but she didn't seem to be paying any attention to him at all. His shoulders visibly slumped, and Tom and Rick snickered as he climbed over the guard rail and came across the track to the pit.

"Shot down in flames, buddy?" Rick called out cheerfully as Dave approached.

The youngest member of the crew shook his head dolefully. "I don't get it. She was real nice and everything, but I don't think she said six words to me."

"Did you get her name?" Tom prompted.

"Nope."

"She waiting for somebody?"

"You know, I asked her that, and all she said was that it was a pretty day and it might rain later. Maybe she doesn't really know much English, or maybe she doesn't understand it too well. I think she's Chinese, or something."

Rick snorted. "No way! With that hair?"

"Maybe she dyes it," Dave suggested. "I didn't dare ask her. Girls are touchy about that stuff."

Tom clapped Dave on the shoulder. "Cheer up, bro. You might ought to take some tips from Asakura. He's a real ladies' man."

Dave shook his head. "I don't think even he could crack this one. She's a real ice queen."

"The woman hasn't drawn breath that can resist that Sicilian charm." Tom looked at Joe. "What do you say, buddy? Think you can get her name at least?"

Joe squinted across the track towards the bleachers. "She doesn't look like my type," he said.

"See? Joe's not stupid," Dave said. "He knows a lost cause when he sees one."

"I'd pay to see him go for it," Tom said. "Ten bucks says she won't give you her name."

"Twenty says he won't get her number," Rick countered. "But I'd like to see him try."

Joe huffed, scratching the back of his head idly. Wearing helmets out of Birdstyle always made him itchy. "I don't know..."

"I got thirty that says she won't go out with you," Dave said. "I'm not even sure if she knows what guys are for. Maybe she's a dyke or something."

Joe pulled his sunglasses from his pocket and slipped them on. "All right, let's find out."

The three men hooted and clapped as Joe headed for the track. Another time trial had started, but Joe was notorious for ignoring regulations and he barely waited for the car to pass before heading out onto the asphalt. He mounted the sharp incline and jumped the rail one-handed.

The woman started to stand as he approached the bleachers. He held one hand in front of him where the men across the track couldn't see, a staying gesture. She caught on immediately and simply straightened her skirt, settling down again and looking nonchalantly away from him.

Joe mounted the steps and performed his best saunter for the benefit of their audience as he approached her. "We're being observed--by friendly eyes," he amended, so as not to alarm her. "Friendly, but clueless. They think you don't know me."

Not looking at him, she said, "Is one of them that Dave guy?"

"Uh-huh." Joe sat down beside her, leaning back and putting his feet on the chair in front of him. "Tom wants to know if you're a natural redhead."

"Before or after I kick his ass for asking me?"

He chuckled. "Ken drop you off?"

"Yeah, I asked him to. He's on his way to the airfield for his mail run."

"When do you work today?"

"Not till five. Jun wants me at the Snack to close tonight. She and Jinpei are taking in a movie."

"Good for them." He glanced without turning his head at the trio watching them. "You can look at me now."

She obediently turned her face towards him. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"

"I take my small pleasures where I may. You're supposed to give me your phone number, too."

Her eyebrow quirked upwards. "I am?"

"Sure. We have to make it look good--we've got sixty bucks riding on this." Joe pulled a pad from his back pocket, flipped it to a clean page, and handed it to her. "So where would you like to go for lunch? After all--" he gestured across the track-- "they're buying."

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"Here he comes." Tom waited eagerly as Asakura crossed the track with long, loping strides back towards the pit area. Rick and Dave were still arguing about whether a Chinese girl could be a "real" redhead. Tom shushed them as Joe came within earshot. "So? How'd it go? She didn't slap you, at least."

Joe shrugged nonchalantly. "Her name's Miya. She's sort of new in town--only been here a few months, anyway. She's Japanese, not Chinese. And yes, Dave, she's a real redhead."

"How would you know?" Dave retorted.

"Did you look at her eyebrows? Her eyelashes? You can't dye those, not unless you want to blind yourself."

Dave deflated. "Oh."

"Did you get her number?" asked Rick.

Joe showed him the notepad--a quick flash, not enough to let him actually see the number. "And I'm taking her to lunch, too. As soon as you gentlemen fork over."

With (mostly) good-natured grumbling, the three of them paid up. With a smug smirk and a casual wave, Joe got back into his car and drove out of the pit. A few moments later, the dark blue stock car appeared in the parking area on the other side of the bleachers, and the three men watching saw the redhead step down off the bleachers, walk to the lot and get into the car.

"I don't know how he does it," Rick muttered.

"He's a Sicilian," Dave said. "Women go for those Latin types."

Tom chuckled. "It's like I told you guys, he's got a way with women. He can make a woman or a car do anything he wants them to. It's a gift."

"Then why did you put money on a bet that he couldn't?" Dave asked him.

"Why do you think I only put up ten bucks?"

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