§ § § - October 14, 2006
Within the hour the stands had filled, the rest of Christian's family had arrived, save for Louisa and the baby, and the race was under way. Leslie pointed out Johnny Farquharson's car to Christian, but it turned out to have been mostly unnecessary, for Christian was more engrossed in Doug Grunewald's material than in the race. However, Carl Johan, Esbjörn and Rudolf more than made up for Christian's preoccupation; even Amalia and Kristina seemed interested, Kristina unusually so, in Leslie's opinion. Finally she leaned over to the dowager queen and said in wonder, "I didn't know you liked racing!"
Kristina looked at her with twinkling eyes and said, "Neither did I!" They both laughed. "I understand one of the racers asked for a fantasy from your father. Which one is it, so I know whom to cheer on?"
"Number 94," Leslie said, located it on the track and pointed it out. Johnny had begun from second position in the lineup, which Leslie thought very respectable indeed; but as Roarke had pointed out, second position didn't guarantee anything close to a winning finish. She watched the car make a couple of circuits to post another mile and sighed softly, unable to resist the urge to call home and check with Ingrid to see how the triplets were doing. Ingrid, of course, told her they were just fine, which ended that distraction very quickly and forced her to hunt for something else to occupy herself with. Try as she might, she couldn't see the excitement in watching a bunch of cars circling the same loop of road over and over again.
Finally her eye lit on the pile of items Christian had already read. "Mind if I take a look at those, my love?" she asked, reaching for them.
"Go ahead," he murmured, engrossed in an article that, judging from its title, was about some sports brouhaha. She picked up the small stack of pages and made herself as comfortable as she could in her seat, scanning the piece with slowly increasing interest.
By the time she'd read through ten of Grunewald's previous writings, the race was beginning to come down to the crucial moments. It was now in the 88th lap, and Leslie was able to pick out number 94 in fourth position. She leaned to Roarke. "He looks to be doing pretty well," she ventured.
Roarke nodded, frowning slightly. "Three laps ago he came out of his third pit stop. I believe that in a race this short, most cars get away with two stops at most."
"So three's a bad thing, then?" Leslie asked.
"Not necessarily," Roarke said, "but he should now be able to stay in the pack through the end of the race. If he is required to pit again, he may lose his chance to win."
His words finally penetrated Christian's self-induced fog, and the prince looked up. "How's our man?" he asked.
Roarke told him and added, "He is still well in contention, but he can't afford another stop for any reason. Not if he is to win."
Christian found Johnny's car in the pack and watched it go for a moment. "Ah, wait a minute, he's edging up a notch," he said, leaning forward a bit in his seat.
"It's been quite a race," Carl Johan observed. "That number 94 your father-in-law's been watching has been really fighting to keep his place in the lineup. He started out in second place and has managed to keep from dropping back any farther than fifth throughout the entire race."
"Pretty impressive," Rudolf agreed. "Does he have something to prove?"
"To himself only," Roarke said, almost inaudible to them, but with an expression Leslie knew all too well. "And perhaps that's all that truly matters."
Lap after lap crawled by, and Johnny fought his way into second place, where he remained till lap 97, alarming Leslie. "He's got to get into first pretty soon, or else…" she began.
Roarke nodded. "I know, Leslie. What happens now is entirely up to him."
From then on everyone concentrated carefully on the action on the track, while lap 97 became lap 98 and Johnny Farquharson duked it out with the lead car for first place. In the middle of lap 99, Johnny managed to edge in front of the leader and put on a burst of speed on the straightaway that had the royal family sitting up in their seats with excitement. But Roarke leaned forward, a look of alarm on his face, and Leslie caught sight of it a split second before she realized why. "He's going too fast!" she cried, clutching Christian's arm.
"Draga dej, du galen!" Christian growled in his own tongue, exhorting Johnny to slow down. He and Leslie, and everyone else, braced themselves as if they were passengers in the car, dreading the imminent crash.
But incredibly enough, at the very last second, Johnny slowed just enough to take the curve, tires squealing and raising smoke. When it cleared, he was two car lengths in front and putting a little more distance between himself and the guy now in second place, and once more sped up almost too fast before taking the far curves on shrieking tires. Leslie groaned and ducked her head, squeezing her eyes shut. "I can't watch."
Beside her she sensed Christian relax slightly. "He barely squeaked out of that one too," the prince said tensely. "I don't blame you for not watching, my Rose. It's a good thing there's only one lap left, though that's still time to kill himself…"
"Ach, is he insane?" burst out Rudolf in jordiska from a couple of seats down, sounding aghast and admiring in equal measure. "Why is he doing that?"
"For the win, of course," Carl Johan replied, then let out a startled noise as Johnny again rounded the first curve of the final lap on screaming tires. Leslie shook her head to herself and refused to look up.
"He's that desperate?" Rudolf asked.
Leslie risked a look up, caught a quick glimpse of Johnny on the straightaway, then explained, "He's never yet won a race, and that's his fantasy. If he doesn't take it a little easier, instead of a successful fantasizer, we'll have a dead driver."
"Herregud," Rudolf breathed, eyes glued to the track. "Look at him—he's got nerve."
"But not much common sense," Christian snorted, shifting in his seat as Johnny came howling out of the last curve and apparently stood on the accelerator. "Herregud, du—"
That was all he had time to say, for Johnny Farquharson sailed victorious through the checkered flag, and hit the brakes with enough force to make the tires protest one more time before letting the car coast around the track. They could all see his fist pumping madly out the window; the whole family added their cheers to the roaring from the stands, and Roarke and Leslie looked at each other with relieved grins.
"Why don't we go down there and congratulate him," Roarke suggested, already rising from his seat. "Christian, perhaps you'll have the family meet us at the car; Leslie and I must speak with Mr. Farquharson."
Christian nodded. "Tell him congratulations from us too—even though we all think he's completely mad," he said, setting off laughter. Grinning, he turned to his brother, and Roarke and Leslie made their way out of the bleachers and crossed the track after the last of the pack of cars had passed by. They moved into the winner's circle and waited while car number 94 coasted into the pit and came to a triumphant stop. Johnny erupted out the door shouting ecstatically, barreling straight for his hosts.
"I did it!" he screamed jubilantly. "I won—my first race ever!" He pumped Roarke's hand with enough enthusiasm to make the latter man wince. "And it's all thanks to you, Mr. Roarke. You gave me the chance and helped me make it happen."
Roarke laughed. "Your performance was truly commendable, Mr. Farquharson, in spite of what I must confess were some hair-raising moments at the end. Congratulations on your win. You worked hard for it. My daughter's family passes on their congratulations as well—although my son-in-law said something about your being quite mad."
Johnny grinned. "I don't blame him—I scared myself a couple times, but it was worth it. This must be the greatest moment of my life. Thanks again, Mr. Roarke." He was precluded from saying any more by the presentation of a large gold cup-shaped trophy, and a shapely young woman wound her arms around his neck and blatantly French-kissed him right in front of everyone. One of Johnny's pit crew put a stop to that by dumping a cooler full of ice cubes over their heads; fortunately, by then Roarke and Leslie had stepped well out of the way and managed to avoid the resultant fallout. Leslie, though, having seen the kiss, was reminded of something and looked around.
"Is something wrong, Leslie?" Roarke asked.
She shrugged. "I was just looking for Glory McConnell. But I guess she kept her word and stayed away. I hope she stuck around long enough to see him win."
Roarke smiled a little. "It was her fantasy, Leslie, after all is said and done. I have no doubt that she did—and I also have no doubt that she kept the promise she made to us in the study this morning and is letting Johnny have the spotlight by himself." He glanced into the stands, which were beginning to empty out now. "It's Mr. Farquharson's moment; why don't we find Christian and the rest, and return to the main house."
‡ ‡ ‡
By the time they all arrived there, it was just about time for the evening meal, and the table in the seldom-used dining room had been enlarged in order to seat every member of the visiting Enstad family. This included Louisa, along with little Princess Katarina, as well as the triplets. Christian, driving the SUV, had detoured to their own house long enough to pick them up. It was turning out to be funny to watch the triplets around the baby; only Karina had any ongoing interest in the infant, while her brother and sister seemed bored with the fact that almost all Katta did was sleep, and preferred more energetic pursuits.
"So did you finish reading all the material that journalist gave you, Christian?" asked Amalia eventually, about midway through the meal. "You were so caught up in it at the track that I'm surprised you witnessed any of the race."
Christian grinned good-naturedly. "It was very interesting, actually. I honestly hadn't expected it to be that riveting. Douglas Grunewald has a particular gift for what he does, and I'm more convinced than ever that he's the man to write this book."
Amalia flicked a glance at Kristina and then gave Christian a stern look. "You have yet to convince us, you may remember."
"Ah yes, the last two stubborn holdouts." Christian smiled, not the least bit intimidated. Leslie had to smile as well; Christian was far too familiar with his family to let any of them try to subdue him. "Well, now, you may remember hearing perhaps far too much about the Anatolian ambassador to the US being caught speeding through the streets of Washington, D.C., in the official limousine. Remember all the madness in the media about how a group of the city's citizens were fed up with diplomatic immunity and decided to use the ambassador as an example? And how even King Peter and Queen Christine were drawn into the act and came down squarely on the side of the citizens' group?" When Amalia nodded, he said, "Well, Douglas Grunewald broke that story, and his articles were translated directly from the original English and reprinted in papers around the world. Those were his very words you were reading in Sundborgs Nyheter last year. He presented both sides of the story in a completely unbiased manner, and reported every word of his interviews exactly as spoken by their subjects. I called the Washington Post and checked on it myself. They also verified that this was true for every single one of these articles." He held up a handful of newspaper clippings. "And then there were four or five in-depth investigations he did for Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report, both of which magazines praised his efforts and the pieces he produced. In short, Amalia, the man is that rare journalist who is everything he says he is. He has integrity and class, and leaves his interview subjects their dignity in every case, no matter how pathetic they may truly be."
By the time he finished, absolute silence reigned in the dining room. Finally Rudolf grinned and remarked, "Well, there you are, mor—a testimonial from the one member of the family who probably hates reporters more than any of the rest of us. If Uncle Christian is singing this guy's praises, I think there's only one thing to do—let him write the book."
"Agreed," Carl Johan said with a gentle smile at his astonished wife. "When Leslie finished reading one of the larger pieces for the magazines Christian mentioned, she gave it to me to take a look at. He's absolutely impartial and has a very crisp and easily understandable writing style. He presents all sides of an issue evenly and fairly, even if he himself feels personally biased in one direction or the other."
"When did you two have time to double-check all this?" Amalia demanded.
"Between the end of the race and the beginning of this meal," Christian said. "Since you women decided you needed to change your clothing, restyle your hair and put on fresh makeup, and since you took your time about all that, Carl Johan and I used the extra time in a productive manner. We both knew it was going to take all this to convince you and Kristina, so I decided it was best to gather all the ammunition I could."
"And I myself had a telephone conversation with Mr. Grunewald while Christian was contacting the newspaper that employs him," Esbjörn put in. "I asked him point-blank if he had ever felt that one or the other side of a debate was in the right, and he said of course he has, on nearly every occasion he's written a piece. But he's too professional to let that leach into his writing. He takes real pride in his job, and I must say I'm impressed. Were it in my power, I'd install him as journalism professor at Premier University and then put out a decree that every single human being working in the jordisk media is required to take a class in journalistic ethics from him."
Leslie grinned. "Well, that's what I call a ringing endorsement."
"Indeed," Roarke said, chuckling. "Now, Your Highness, perhaps you'll allow me to fully grant the man's fantasy and give him permission to begin work on his manuscript."
Amalia sighed and rolled her eyes. "I see I've been outmaneuvered. Very well, I'll give this my blessing. You'll have a harder time convincing Kristina, though."
But Kristina was shaking her head; as usual, Anna-Laura had been quietly translating for her. "No," she said in jordiska, "I'll agree to be interviewed as well. If Christian feels that this man is perfect for the job, then I need no further convincing."
"Then the project is a go," Rudolf said and grinned.
"So it would seem," Roarke agreed, smiling. "I must take this opportunity to tell you that I appreciate your collective cooperation in the realization of this fantasy. I am deeply indebted to you all, and Douglas Grunewald is even more so."
"We just wouldn't want to see your perfect record for creating happy customers gain a blemish," Christian teased slyly, and everyone began to laugh while Leslie gave him a solid punch in the upper arm, rolling her eyes but laughing as well.
§ § § - October 15, 2006
Roarke and Leslie had heard nothing at all from Johnny Farquharson since his monumental win the previous afternoon, so they were both immensely curious when he stepped out of the first rover, unaccompanied. He looked slightly pensive and had a small piece of paper in one hand. "Mr. Roarke," he began before either of his hosts could speak, "did you see or talk to Glory after she, uh, confessed yesterday?"
"Only for a few minutes after you and her brothers left," said Leslie. "Why?"
"Because of this." Johnny unfolded the paper and looked down at it. "It's a note she left me—I found it in our bungalow last evening after I came back from the track and all the celebrating. She herself, well, she was gone." He handed the note to Leslie. "Here."
Aloud Leslie read, "Dear Johnny, by the time you get this, I'll have left the island already. I know you don't care where I'm going, but I just want you to know that I'm so happy you won the race. You deserve it. I hope you have success in everything you do from now on. It'll be much easier for you now that I won't be hanging on your coattails. All my love, Glory. No, Ethel." She showed Roarke the page. "Look, she crossed out 'Glory' and wrote in her real name."
"What's up with that?" Johnny asked. "I've been wondering."
"She did admit that she felt you were correct in your assessment of her," Roarke said gently, "and furthermore, told us that she had given up, that she was planning to return to Mississippi." Johnny stared at him.
Leslie nodded. "She also said she was going to the race, but when Christian and I invited her to sit with us, she refused, on the grounds that she figured you and her brothers would draw the conclusion that she thought she was equal to royalty. She didn't want that. She said she'd sit someplace where you wouldn't know she was there, and so far as we know, that's just what she did."
Johnny took the note back, glanced over it again, then folded it and shoved it into his pocket. "I haven't really made up my mind about her yet, but I have a feeling, Mr. Roarke. I think maybe she's seen how dumb it was, the way she kept pushing me and trying to elevate herself above her origins. It was a real surprise; she never did tell me much about where she came from, and I quit asking after a while. I guess she was ashamed."
"Perhaps," Roarke suggested, "if you allow her some time to recover, you might try getting in touch with her once more—if you are so inclined."
Johnny shrugged. "Yeah, I might do that…I can go through her brothers. I might, I might not…I need time, y'know?" Roarke and Leslie nodded, and he shoved his hands into his pockets, all the while rocking from side to side on his feet. "But in the meantime, I got a career to think about. All thanks to you—you made it happen."
"Don't forget, Mr. Farquharson," Roarke reminded him quietly, "it was Miss McConnell who requested your fantasy—and paid for it herself, to be certain it was granted."
That gave Johnny a moment's pause; then he smiled a little and reached out to shake hands. "I'll keep that in mind, Mr. Roarke. Thanks again, for everything—and you too, Mrs. Enstad. Take care now."
"You too," said Leslie, and they watched him lope away toward the landing ramp, returning his final wave. She eyed Roarke thoughtfully. "Do you think he and Glory will ever get back together?"
"Perhaps," Roarke said, smiling faintly. "Larger miracles have happened." He winked, and she chuckled as the second rover pulled around and discharged Douglas and Karen Grunewald, both of them looking radiant.
"Well, I gotta thank you, Mr. Roarke," Grunewald said expansively, shaking hands with vigor. "This weekend turned out to be more than I ever expected it to be—and I even learned something about my wife." He grinned at Karen, who returned it wholeheartedly. "Thanks for everything." He shifted his attention to Leslie. "And thanks for sticking your neck out and telling your husband all about that pesky demon of a journalist who wanted to disrupt his happy existence by interviewing him."
They all laughed. "Oh, he's gotten over it," Leslie assured him. "As a matter of fact, last evening he was really extolling your virtues in convincing his sisters-in-law to agree to let you interview them for the book. I have to tell you, Mr. Grunewald, you've achieved something probably unique in their experience. You must be the only member of the media that Christian has ever taken a genuine liking to."
"Yeah?" Grunewald laughed. "Who'd ever have thought!"
"That, Mr. Grunewald, is due to your consistent and lasting integrity," Roarke told him. "I myself researched a great deal of your work before I ever agreed to grant your fantasy, and had you been less than scrupulously honest and unbiased, I would have turned you down in the full knowledge that my son-in-law would have done the same. You are a rare breed, and I commend you for maintaining that integrity in a world of increasingly dirty and titillating reporting. I wish you the best of luck on this project."
"Thank you so much. Time for us to get back to D.C. so I can start doing all that exhaustive research. Again, thanks for everything." Both Grunewalds shook hands with Roarke and Leslie before heading for the plane dock.
"I guess that'll be keeping Christian and his family busy for a good while," Leslie observed, watching them go. "I think this'll be one of the few history books I'll ever find myself really enjoying reading." Roarke laughed and slipped an arm around her as they waved back at their departing guests.
Just when you thought this was over with…Roarke isn't done with Christian just yet! An especially remarkable confrontation is in store in the next story.
My reference to King Peter and Queen Christine of Anatolia in this chapter comes from the first-season episode "The Prince / The Sheriff", original airdate February 11, 1978, with Dack Rambo as Prince Peter and Lisa Hartman as Chris.