Pink on Black: A Kart Noir Tale
My old man was a plumber, as was his old man before him. Growing up, my whole world was this cheap housing in the wrong neighborhood. I thought that we was never gonna leave our home, become something more than a bunch of blue-collar Italian immigrants. Then she came into my life, and everything changed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me go back to the beginning.
My old man’s old man came over on a big wooden boat. You know the type, one of those things that should have been scrapped ages ago that seemed to have weird gaps and pieces missing cuz it was a warship originally? Yeah, that’s just the kind. After he came over from the old country, he couldn’t work doing anything other than fixing pipes. He was weirdly good at it, and when my old man was old enough, he took him to jobs and showed him the ropes.
My old man did the same for me, but I never quite took to it quite the same. Sure, I could fix your pipes, but I just never had the patience to do a big job right. My old man used to call me stupid and sock me in the mouth for screwin’ around, but my mom, God bless ‘er, would always defend me, saying I just had a special brain, that I was destined for something else. That always sounded a bit queer to me, but then again I think ma was right. This plumbin’ thing just didn’t work for me.
Then a few years back, dad got sick, so I had to carry the weight of the family. Hospital bills was stackin’ up, and plumbin’ just doesn’t pay enough to pay the hospital bills, ya know? I feel kinda bad sayin’ this, but I was a bit relieved when my old man finally kicked the bucket. I even went out for the first time in months to get a drink cuz I knew Moira at the bar down on the corner wouldn’t card me. So there I was, enjoying a beer and thinkin’ about how I needed to find a better job to pay off my dad’s left-over bills and get my ma out of this dump when she walked in. Lookin’ back, it’s kinda funny that she walked up to me. I was just some no-name schmo wearing overalls, yet she came up to me.
“Hi, stranger,” she said. “Care to buy me a drink?” So what you have to bear in mind is that this dame was Grade A. Long blonde hair, manicured nails, thin waist, legs up to here… you get the picture. I sat there like an idiot for minutes with my jaw on the bar. “Excuse me, barkeep, this gentleman would like to buy me a martini with a twist, please.” She then turned back to me with the sweetest expression I ever seen and said, “See, that wasn’t so hard. Hi, my name is P., and I’ve been watching you.”
“Watching me?” I stammered out. “What the hell for?” Here I was just some sewer-crawling mook sitting in a bar thinking about how to get enough dough to move his ma out of the slums. Why the hell would this broad pay any attention to a schmuck like me?
Then she leans in real close and whispers in my ear, and I almost fall off my stool. “I know your secret. The one you hid from your old man.” I turned white as a ghost. Ya see, I had a bit of a hobby. Something I hid from my old man.
I liked to drive. And I was pretty good at it.
“That’s right,” she said smiling as she pulled back from me. “I’ve watched you race. You’re good. Far too good to be hanging out in this… neighborhood,” she said with a bit of a sneer. God, even that sneer was pretty. Again it struck me how out of my league this angel in pink was. “Anyway,” she started again after taking a long sip from her drink, “I’m not here just to tell you something you know. I’ve seen your progress in the lightning league. I, and the people I represent, need a driver like you. Someone from the outside who can win. Someone who can handle himself behind the wheel. Interested?”
I paused for a good minute there. Sure, I had won a few matches. I had lost some too, and I wasn’t making any money for anyone driving Old Man T.’s beat up racer. Something was fishy about this. “How much we talkin’?” I asked.
“Enough to move you and your mother out of the slums. She’d never have to work a day in her life, and depending on how many races you win, you could retire young. Aren’t you tired of crawling around in pipes for a living?” she asked, gazing intently at me with those big doe eyes. Any suspicion I had melted away under that look. Ma always said I was a sucker for a pretty face.
“Yeah, sure. I’m interested,” I finally stammered out. “When and where do you need me?”
I squinted as the light from the bright neon sign bombarded my eyes as I climbed out of P.’s limo. “This is the Rainbow,” she cooed in that maddeningly sweet voice. “Most of the other drivers hang around here. I want to point out a few of the competitors you’ll be facing tomorrow. The track runs right past this bar and down the alley into the industrial sector, so most of the other drivers are here getting prepped. I wouldn’t drink too much. I need you in top shape tomorrow,” she said with a wink of her big doe eyes. What had I gotten myself into?
I pushed through the swinging doors into a surprisingly dim and dingy watering hole. This place made the bars back in my ma’s neighborhood look like churches, and the occupants looked like they’d mug ya just as soon as look at ya. As usual, P. just sort of marched in and struck up a place at the bar, her pristine pink dress an image of glaring brightness is this otherwise dismal place. She started chatting nonchalantly with the bartender, pretending to be completely aloof of the miscreants gawking at her. I hesitantly pulled up a stool beside her, all too aware of the looks we was drawin’. I didn’t like those looks. They were the same looks my old man used to get from the hungry winos that would always be hangin’ around out back of his work. Those looks reminded me of something reptilian.
“You see that diva over there in the corner with the blue dress? That’s Rosie. She used to be a fashion queen until some Chinaman introduced her to opium. They used to call her Miss Galaxy. Now, when she isn’t wallowing in some den, she races to fuel her addiction. She still thinks she’s the queen of the universe, though, so watch yourself around her.” I eyed the tired-looking blonde at the corner table. She was certainly pretty, but she also looked worn, like some rusty family heirloom.
“That big guy sitting the next table over from her is Dan Kano, but everyone just calls him The Ape. He’s dumb as a donkey and nearly as stubborn, but he drives a mean car and won’t hesitate to knock you over a ledge.” I could certainly see where he got the name. This guy was huge and hairy. He caught my eye and gave me a glare that looked like some kinda primitive show of male dominance. I quickly broke my glance and kept listening to P.
“Most of the other patrons here will also be competing.” That word patron just rolled off her tongue like honey. For probably the millionth time, I wondered what I had let this dame get me into. “The only other man you need to worry about is the big guy near the door in the pressed suit. He, and his two little cronies there, are members of the Kappa Family. They have mob connections, and they race dirty.” She placed her gloved hand on my cheek and gently but firmly pulled my gaze back to hers. “DO NOT CROSS HIM,” she said sternly. “The Family trades in weapons, illegal substances, extortion, racketeering, you name it. Racers have tricked Papa B. over during races and woken up with their faces smashed by one of his hammer henchman. Whatever you do tomorrow, stay out of his way. I need you to win, but for God’s sake don’t drive anywhere near Papa B.”
P. finished her drink, leaned over, and pressed her pretty pink lips against my cheek. “Good luck tomorrow, big boy. We believe in you. I’ll have your car ready outside the Rainbow tomorrow.” I have no idea how long I sat there dumbfounded, but I never even noticed Papa B. sidle up behind me until his two cronies was on either side of me. The one on my right wore glasses and had a turtely appearance. I could tell from the calluses on his hand that he had done his fair share of manual work, but from the greedy look in his beady eyes, I figured most of that was off the books. The one on my left was skinny. Real skinny. He looked like a skeleton, and there was a whole lot of hate in his sunken, hollow eyes. Suddenly, a loud booming laugh commanded me to swivel around in my stool.
There stood the biggest, meanest looking mook I had ever seen. Papa B. had to be at least seven-feet tall. Long, red hair tumbled over his broad shoulders like fire, and smoke from a cigar curled out of his nostrils and lips as he studied me. His eyes reminded me of a crocodile I saw at the zoo when my ma took me there as a kid. He was dressed in an immaculate suit, complete with spiked cufflinks. He just stood there for what seemed like forever, sizing me up, before he finally spoke. “So, you’re the chump that whore P. suckered this time, eh? You don’t look like much, but then again, neither did the last kid. Too bad what happened to him. Oh, P. didn’t tell you? He won the last big race, but someone set his house on fire later that week. It was a tragic end for someone so young. I’d hate for something like that to happen to you. This is a dangerous city. Accidents happen all the time. Sometimes it’s better for folks to just keep their heads down. Know what I mean?” Papa B. smiled a toothy, crocodile grin at me. His teeth were stained from smoke. I tried to respond, to stick up for myself, but courage just sorta stuck in my throat. All I could manage to get out was a bit of an “ummmm” sound. Papa B. smiled again and hissed, “Well, I’ll be seeing you tomorrow, kid. Get a good night’s sleep. Good luck.”
His two cronies slithered off their chairs and followed him as he drifted towards the door, cigar smoke trailing him like the exhaust of a steam ship. I turned back to the bar and sipped my drink, thinking about everything P. had told me on the way over. The course wound right past the Rainbow and down onto a dock in the industrial area. There were plenty of twists and obstacles, so I would need to really be alert. Between all the hazards and this colorful cast of no-good characters I saw today, this race was really shaping up to be a bad idea. But P. seemed to think I could win, that I could really do it, and if she believed in me…
I finished my drink, paid the barkeep with some money P. had given me, and headed towards the exit. Funny, I didn’t even notice that it had started raining.
The night seemed to spin out for an eternity, but finally the hour arrived. I honestly don’t think I slept at all, but it didn’t matter. I was ready. I was born ready. This is what I was meant for. Not plumbin’. Not some dirty life in a poor neighborhood. This was my calling. I could feel it in the crisp sea air that greeted my nostrils. I walked up to the lot next to the Rainbow and found P. sitting with her long legs crossed over the hood of my car. It looked a bit like a buggy, but I know P.’s mechanics had dropped a huge engine in it. The tires looked like they could take me anywhere. Good. I had no doubt I would need them. There was red stripes down the hood and sides with a big “M” insignia plastered to the front. I suspected that was for my name.
“Good morning, handsome,” P. said with a slight arch of her elegant eyebrows. “How’d you sleep?” Before I could answer, she got right down to business. “Okay, as we talked about, the race is going to have three laps, but the course is pretty open, and each lap will take a slightly different path Look for shortcuts. Ramps, alleys, anything you can find will come in handy. Keep a careful eye on your competitors. Some of them might be armed.”
“Armed?” I interrupted her. That didn’t sound good.
She tilted her head slightly, her long golden curls tumbling down over her low-cut dress. “Oh, just some traps and such. I would’t worry about it too much. Just stay alert and try not to make any enemies out there. Focus on yourself and don’t get aggressive towards the other drivers. Remember, I believe in you. You just have to come in first today, then you’re set. I’ll be watching from the stands on the second floor of the Rainbow. Good luck.” She kissed me again, but this time it was full on my lips. I felt myself falling, falling. I didn’t know which direction was up or down. All I knew was I had to win.
A horn blew, announcing that all of the drivers needed to take their rides down the alley to the starting line. “You can do it!” P. exclaimed before sauntering off towards the Rainbow. I watched her hips sway for a few seconds as she retreated, then I hopped into the car and turned the key. The engine roared to life. I let out a little laugh when I noticed the shifter was in the shape of a star.
I maneuvered the car down the alley to the starting line. There were eight other racers in blocks here: Rosie, The Ape, another Italian guy I recognized as a car salesman from the region, a bookish looking young man, Papa B.’s two henchmen, and Papa B. himself. The three Family members all glared at me for a second before returning their attention to the starting line. A young broad in a short yellow dress stood at the start with a checkered flag. I gripped the wheel and revved the engine. She raised the flag. My grip tightened. The flag came down.
Suddenly everything roared to life. I have no idea how, but all three of the Family cars roared way ahead of everyone else. I guess they had put some illegal boosters in their engines. Wait, I had to remember that no one here was gonna play by the rules. I just needed to race. That’s all. I screamed out of the alley and down to the docks, but starting last place was no good. Up ahead, I could see the bookworm closing in on The Ape. They were neck and neck for a while, but then the track wound closer to the sea front. Suddenly, The Ape swerved over and jostled the kid, knocking him and his car into the drink. I glanced over my shoulder to see if he was okay as I rolled past, but there’s no way I could stop to help him out. I needed this win.
The Ape and I closed in on the car salesman as the course turned into a shipping yard. I had to weave in and out of the big shipping containers while the two other racers jostled each other for position. Then I noticed what looked like a service ramp leading to an upper edge. I swerved over to the right and took the ramp while the two continued to jostle. A loud screeching sound caught up to me. I looked over my shoulder and saw that the salesman had tossed some kind of chain at The Ape, but the chain had caught onto a large pole, and both vehicles had wrecked. I focused ahead and pressed the pedal to the medal. I drifted around a turn and noticed that the end of the first lap was just ahead. As I crossed under the banner I caught a glimpse of light reflecting off Rosie’s muffler. She was still a ways ahead of me, but I was closing in on her. She also seemed to be closing in on one of the Family henchmen, the turtley one.
As we drove back out to the docks, I noticed that some new containers had been dropped off, and there was now a higher track. I would have taken it, but Rosie took the ramp ahead of me and dropped what looked like oil or grease onto the track behind her. This broad was as desperate to win as I was. So, instead of following her, I opted to draft the henchman. As I was tailing him through the winding docks, he kept glancing back at me, slowing down, then speeding up. I had the feeling he was trying to lure me into something. Thankfully, I didn’t fall for it and kept a healthy distance, waiting for a good chance to pass. I didn’t wait long.
As we cruised out of the docks, I noticed an alley that hadn’t caught me eyes before. Ol’ turtley must have seen it too, cuz he started to immediately cut to the left. I had been wise to stick behind him though, because some green chunk of welded metal had been left at an angle just before the entrance of the alley. I was able to cut a sharper turn than he was, and he caught the chunk and crashed, screaming and cursing simultaneously. I roared out of the tunnel just in time to catch sight of Rosie ahead of me.
The rest of this lap spat us out onto a street crowded with parked cars. What in the world were all these cars doing here? I did’t have much time to wonder though, cuz there was even more hazards afoot. Bones was just ahead of us, dropping caltrops that had been painted yellow. Weirdly, they reminded me of bananas. I swerved around at least two of them and wondered how many he had. Rosie was doing the same. Suddenly, her front tire caught another one, but before she spun out, I saw her lob something heavy and red, maybe a brick, at ol’ Bones. It must have caught him right in the head, because he slumped over in his seat and careened into a wall. I looked back at the smoke pouring out of both cars just as I crossed under the banner. One more lap.
I turned down the alley out towards the docks, keeping a keen eye open for Papa B. Something was wrong, though. Thick smoke was pouring up through the alley; when I finally drifted down onto the dock, I found out why. The bastard must have dropped some sort of explosive on the docks, because there was craters everywhere and fire was spreading across the weathered wood. I weaved as best I could through the ash and acrid smoke, my eyes watering from the heat, but I finally saw him. Papa B. was just up ahead, turning into the contained yard. I closed in on him.
This time, I didn’t notice any shortcuts. It was just the two of us, neck and neck. He tossed a few hunks of metal my way, but I gave him a wide berth, and his little weapons went sailing past me. We kept racing neck and neck, neither of us offering any quarter, until finally we came to an open stretch of road. Here, I took a wide turn and bumped him just a bit, just enough to spin him out and take the lead. The finish line was fast approaching. I could see it. I was going to win. I was going to win and marry P. and move my ma out of that slum…
A shrieking sound from behind me suddenly tore my attention away from my celebrations. I turned my head in horror just in time to see a screaming blue missile barreling down towards me. It was moving too fast to dodge it. I knew there was nothing I could do. I gripped the wheel. My pupils dilated, and time seemed to slow to a crawl.
It’s weird. I never much believed in God growing up, but my dear aa was religious. She used to drag me with her to church every Sunday. Most of the stories never stuck with me, but I always liked the story of Joshua and Jericho. You see, Joshua was supposed to enter the Promised Land, but wicked people held him and his people back. The city of Jericho, a fortress of evil men, stood in his path. One day, Joshua and his men met a woman inside the city named Rahab, and she would end up being their deliverance. Rahab showed them the way to destroy Jericho, and Joshua and his men acted faithfully and conquered the city in triumph. I always liked that story because the hard work and faithfulness was rewarded. And maybe because I liked the idea of a beautiful broad showing you the way.
As the missile rocketed down upon me though, a searing white light of realization dawned upon me. I was not Joshua. P. was not Rahab, and this race was not my Jericho. I was one of the unfaithful ones who attempted to rise above my station and claim what was not rightfully mine. For me, there would never be a Promised Land.