THE SHELL GAME

Shell game - a deadly game played with three DNA samples and one life : a swindle involving the substitution of something of little or no value for a valuable item.

Chapter One

In a cheap hotel room , rented and paid for in advance with cash, a quartet of men were holding a disjointed conservation . The oversized television screen in the center of the wall was working making a low humming sound, but there was no picture. All of the men had all been invited to a meeting in this backwater town by someone who had said that he could make their greatest dreams come true.

As a good faith indicator of his boast, the anonymous chairperson of this meeting had sent each of them $5,000 dollars.

Now the foursome where waiting for the person who had called the meeting to appear. None of the men, a gambler, a mob boss, a loan shark and a rookie racer, all well known in certain illegal parties, had any ideal of why they had been summoned to the secret meeting. At least, none of them admitted to having prior knowledge .

One of the men, the rookie race car driver , was aggressively complaining about the whole situation. " Called to a secret meeting, no one knows who called the meeting. I tell you I would not have come if I had know it would be like this." Jackknifed kept on spouting off , until one of the others challenged him. "Why did you come then?"

"Well, I got an envelope in the mail containing five thousand dollars and a typewritten note telling me to show up here if I wanted to the next world's champion racer." Jackknifed snarled. "I'd like to show Speed Racer that he's not so great."

"Yeah!" One of the other men agreed. " I'd like to catch Speed and Racer X off guard myself. The masked man is getting on my nerves. He's also destroying my business."

The television set snapped on, creating a sudden burst of light and capturing the attention of the men. For a moment the screen was filled with a fuzzy picture then went blank. A cold , electronically altered voice issued from the set.

"So, Racer X is getting on your nerves, is he? Jackknifed, you would like to take Speed Racer's crown from him? You other men want things back the way they were with you getting the lion's share of the loot. Gentlemen, I know that I have a way to make all of your desires possible. Are you interested?"

The startled men stared at the bare television screen. Finally, one of them found his voice." Who are you ? Where are you and what do you mean?'

The only reply was a chilling snicker. " I am a person who wants what you want. Based on my observations and my great knowledge of human nature, I selected you to help me achieve our mutual goals . You need know nothing else. Are you interested or not? I have only so much time to spend with you."

The foursome looked at each other, then the gambler shrugged his shoulders. " I guess it won't hurt to hear what you have to say."

"Excellent. You at least have the intelligence to listen before making a decision." The unfeeling voice continued, "There are several interesting similarities between Speed and Racer X. They are obvious to the highly trained observer. "

"Similarities? "asked the loan shark." What are you talking about?"

Jackknifed, tilted back against the wall in the only straight backed chair in the room, kept his hands folded behind his head. His beady eyes were flickering from one man to another.

"Based on the physical resemblances I have observed between Racer X and Speed Racer, I believe the two men to be related. Possibly first cousins. If we can take one of them, I believe that we can control the other."

"Related !" The gambler laughed out loud. "No one has ever seen the masked racers face. Speed had an older brother but he's dead. He was killed in the Casa Cristo Race."

"Yeah," One of the other men broke in, " His body was burned so badly , he couldn't be recognized."

"Was he?" the disembodied voice inquired." " Gentlemen, I know I can prove my theory. All I need is a tiny bit of the body. I will give each of you fifty thousand in cash if you open the grave, dig up the casket, open it and bring me what I need."

"Gentlemen, are you with me or not? " The modified voice demanded. " Talk it over between yourselves and let me know tomorrow at this same time. I have adjusted the television set in this room for two days for our communication purposes. "

The television flickered and clicked off, leaving the foursome to engage in a lively debate.

The next day, the foursome were waiting when the television came on. "We'll do it." Jackknifed spoke for all of them. " Where do we bring the body?"

"Most excellent, "whined the electronic voice. "Oh yes, I will also need blood, skin, salvia, or some other body part from Speed and Racer X. I will leave that entirely in your capable hands. Oh, yes, another fifty thousand to the man or men who can achieve this."

"You may bring the body or bit of body to this address. Follow the guidelines I shall send you exactly . Place the body in it's special container and gentlemen, I will see you there although you will not see me. We will meet here again exactly two weeks from the day after you deliver the body and the samples from Speed and Racer X."

Once again, the television flickered and went off, The foursome left the room headed for Speed Racer's old home town and Rex Racer's grave.

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"Although 99.9 % of DNA sequences are the same in every human being, enough of the DNA is different enough to distinguish one individual from another." The disembodied voice droned on forever presenting facts that were of great interest to genealogists trying to trace members of their families. Frankly, Speed Racer was bored with the whole presentation. He would have loved to change the channel on the car's radio, but in this section of the country, there were very few radio stations and, after trying several times to find SOMETHING to listen to, he had settled for a clear station, even if it was not of interest. At least, it was something to listen too.

Speed was driving his mother's car, loaded with gear, toward the Racer families

vacation destination. His parents, kid brother, and chimpanzee were in the families other car somewhere on the interstate. They had started out together , but somehow had gotten separated. That was fine with Speed. After vacationing there for years, he knew the way and being alone for a while was fine with him.

His racing car, the Mach 5 was at home being carefully guarded by Sparky and Trixie. It would be just the Racer family with two whole weeks of sunshine, gentle warmth, no pressure and a lot of down time. It sounded wonderful to the up and coming young race driver.

Speed admitted to himself that he was exhausted . Race car driving sounded so easy. All you have to do is just hop in the car and drive. Race driving was a lot different then it looked to the casual observer. Helping Inspector Detector and the mysterious Racer X on occasion had not helped calm him down either. " Still," Speed thought to himself, " helping clean up the sport I love and keeping the world a bit safer is worth it. I wonder where Racer X goes on vacation. I wonder if he has a place where he can unmask and just be himself."

The idea of the somber masked man at a theme park, riding a carousal made Speed smile a little.

Speed's eyes fastened on one of the ever present information signs. The exit to his old home town was just a few miles away. He had been a child when the Racer family had moved to another state after his brother Rex had died. Mom and Pops had thought it best that the family move. Another town, no people constantly asking about Rex and how he had died, another school where he could receive the academic help he had needed, and a fresh start for all of them had sounded good.

The Racer family still owned their old home. Pops and Mom simply could not bring themselves to sell it. They had placed the house with a real estate company that had rented the place to a young man named Rayce King who apparently took very good care of the house. He wasn't there a lot of the time, as he traveled a lot for his work, but he maintained the house, paid the rent and all of the bills and taxes on time, so the Racer family had left him alone.

Speed thought about taking the time to drive past the old house, maybe stop by the Dairy Queen at the edge of town that made the greatest, biggest, French fries in the world and , maybe , check on Rex's grave. The moment he thought it, he knew where he could catch up with Pops and Mom. They wouldn't be able to pass by without stopping to check on Rex. As soon as possible he changed lanes and took the exit towards what he still thought of as "Home."

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Inspector Detector was driving to a conference on the new laws and regulations for racers being held to provide information to the racing faculty and public. The new regulations would make it much harder for crooks to place bets and try to rig the races. The man sleeping in the passenger seat of the car had a lot to do with that. Inspector Detector admitted to himself that nearly all of the good changes in racing had come about because of the man called Racer X.

"The good changes in racing and many of the good changes in the situation of the world." Inspector Detector glanced again at the sleeping agent. He was worried about the man. Agent 9 seemed tired all of the time. He had made a serious mistake in his last assignment. Agent 9 had corrected the problem, but he should not have made it in the first place.

Also, the agent was in his late twenties. Racing was a young man' s game. Maybe it was time to consider letting the man retire and finding another Masked Racer.

Another sideways glance revealed that the agent was awake and studying him .

" You know, Henri, " the unmasked racer said pleasantly, "You have a very readable face."

Inspector Detector laughed a little," How so?'

Agent 9 sighted, " I admit I made a major mistake. Mentally, physically, I'm not an idealistic dreamer of a young man anymore. Yes, I would like to retire, but there is no way in this world that I am going to let you have Speed. He deserves a better fate than that of being Racer X."

Racer X stretched a little in the car. "Henri," he said, "Pull over at the next exit? I could use some coffee before you drop me off at the house and there is a Dairy Queen there that sells the hottest, blackest coffee in existence."

"All right, "Inspector Henri Detector agreed, "I still can not believe that you rent your parents home. No one would ever believe that."

"No, I guess not, Henri, but it still seems to be a safe place for me to stay. " Then in an abrupt change of subject, Agent 9 asked, " Do you want to check on the grave while you are here?"

"No, I don't think so. I trust you to keep it up and maintain it." Inspector Detectors voice was stiff. He pulled into the parking lot of the Dairy Queen and rolled down the window of the car to place the order when the agent suddenly gasped.

Inspector Detector stared in shock at Mom and Pops car parked in the next space.

Before he could pull out and escape, Speed came into the parking lot. Recognizing his parents car, he hopped out and walked , grinning toward them. As he walked toward his parents he recognized Inspector Detector and casually altered his direction until he stood right beside the car.

"Hi, Inspector. What are you doing here?"' Speed innocently inquired.