(This is part ten of a story about an ultra-marathon runner who bets his legs he can beat a horse in a 100-mile race. Let’s see if Jonas keeps his feetsies, but first, a flashback.)
In the front row of the underground-casino’s racetrack, Craig and Alphonse watched ten horses vie for the finish-line. Sparse spectators cheered for first-place. “The winner was one of mine!” said Alphonse. He bought Craig a beer to celebrate. “Do you have any steeds to wager?”
Craig laughed. “I’m no cowboy, sir.” He sipped his beer. It tasted like a million bucks. “Unless you mean the chopper. I bet my helicopter could outrace any horse.”
“Maybe, maybe.” Alphonse slapped Craig on the back so hard he almost lost his sunglasses and cap onto the racetrack. “But you’d better hold your helicopter—it’s why I hired you, after all! Where’d you get the wheelie-bird, anyway?”
Craig nodded and sipped more beer. He drank with infinite patience. “I have some connections from my stint in the military.”
“Oh, right!” Alphonse drank a shot of liquor which could have bought a car. “Which war were you in, again? Vietnam?”
“Something like that,” said Craig. “Have you picked a human to race your best horse, sir?”
“Not yet,” said Alphonse. “I need the perfect patsy.”
“I’ve got just the guy.” Craig took a hardcover book from his jacket. “His name is Jonas. He’s an elite ultra-runner whose name is suddenly on everyone’s mind.”
“Don’t Run to Live, Live to Run,” read Alphonse from the cover. “What makes you think he’s the one?”
“Read the book,” said Craig. “Jonas’ girlfriend left him for cheating at an ultra-marathon. He’ll beg to redeem himself for her by racing the horse. Invite him to the casino and we’ll win him over with a nudie deck and some free drinks.”
BEEP. Mile 93 (91): 11:10 / 14:59:59.
Whitney ran alongside me. Ten strangers ran ahead and behind us, and more arrived every few minutes. They each slapped me on the back but I didn’t appreciate the sportsmanship. I’d finished ninety miles alone or with Whitney, and that’s how I liked it. Now I couldn’t get away from company. The news-chopper’s light cast shadows around us. Was their footage live? Or would my fate be released as a documentary?
I licked pizza-sauce from my chin. Even after scarfing a pizza and a half I was still starved. My stomach was bursting and I was hungry. I lost over a hundred calories per mile, so I was still thousands in the hole no matter what I ate. When I finished this race I’d eat like I was expecting quintuplets.
“Let’s see,” I said aloud, to no-one. Whitney was the only one who seemed to hear. “If I burn more than a hundred calories per mile, I’m over nine thousand down. Each of those pizzas is two or three thousand calories, and I’ve had like ten of those silver packets of running glop—those are a hundred apiece. So I’m three thousand calories out, at least.”
“What do you want to eat?” Whitney passed me silver packets of running-glop, but I turned them down.
“I want ice-cream,” I said. “I want ice-cream sandwiches hand-fed to me while I soak in a Jacuzzi, with bubbles.”
“You’re almost there, Jonas. Just a few more miles.”
“Hi!” Danny and Debra approached from ahead and flanked us. “We’re back!”
“Great,” I said.
“How far ahead’s the horse?” asked Whitney.
“Less than two miles,” said Debra.
“You know, the strangest thing happened,” said Danny. “The first time we saw that horse, I swore it was black all over.”
“Uh-huh,” said Whitney.
“But now it’s got two brown hooves.”
“I told him he’s seeing things,” said Debra. “Like when he leaves for work with mismatched socks.”
“That happened once, Deb.”
BEEP. Mile 94 (92): 9:12 / 15:09:11.
At the front gates, six men in leather jackets revved their motorcycles. One shouted at the crowd of spectators through a megaphone. “Hey! Everyone! Eyes over here!”
The crowd turned. Only about half remained at the gates; the rest had entered the estate.
“We’re the safety crew,” said the man with the megaphone. His friends shook orange spray-cans. “There’s lots of opportunity for unfortunate accidents around the Bronson Estate. Our job is to make sure nothing bad happens to you. Please, for your safety and the safety of race-participants, mind the orange lines.”
The six men in leather revved their engines and rode single-file through the throngs. They spray-painted behind them so an orange line cut the trial in two.
“Okay, this is getting ridiculous,” said one bystander in a tank-top commemorating the Winter-2018 Biannual Colorado-Veterinarian-Association 5k. He pulled out his phone. “I’m calling the police.”
Craig’s phone rang. With just one hand on his helicopter’s controls, he prepared to put the phone on speaker for Sandra and the other men in leather to hear. “Listen to this! Every phone-call within a mile of the Bronson Estate goes through me. I screen 911 like a hawk to keep Alphonse’s shenanigans off the radar. It’s priceless!”
“Hello, is this the police?” asked the caller.
“That’s who you dialed, isn’t it?” Craig’s friends in leather giggled. Sandra held the elbow of her broken right arm. “What’s your emergency?”
“I’m at the front gates to the Bronson Estate and things keep getting worse. Aren’t you keeping an eye with this situation?”
“Enough to know it’s a nonviolent gathering on private property,” said Craig. “Doesn’t sound like an emergency to me.”
“Wait a sec.” Craig put the caller on hold and turned to Sandra—he seemed confident piloting the helicopter with his back turned. “What’s up? Isn’t this funny? Are we bothering you?”
Sandra shook her head disbelievingly. “What’s your angle, old man? What are you doing?”
“You’ve worked with Alphonse for a few years. You know he runs an underground casino and harvests organs to sell on the black market, and stuff like that. The law’s not on our side, Sandra.”
“I work for Alphonse,” said Sandra, “but do you work for Alphonse? We all saw that news-chopper follow Jonas, and we all heard you lie to Alphonse about it.”
Craig smiled. “Craig works for Craig. Until now that meant working for Alphonse and keeping my ear to the ground. Tonight it means putting my feet up and letting the river carry the Bronsons away.” He popped the cooler. The others in leather dug around the horse-feet for two cold cans of beer amid the ice. They cracked them open and gave one to Craig and one to Sandra’s unbroken left arm. Craig sipped. “You in?”
“You broke my arm,” said Sandra.
“Following Alphonse’s orders. Gotta keep up appearances,” said Craig. “You told Jonas Alphonse pushed you off the horse, and you were right. Join the mutiny.”
Sandra drank the beer. “I’m in.”
“Welcome to the club, Sandra.” Craig poked his phone and spoke to the 911 caller. “Hello sir! I’m about to transfer you to the real police. Tell them whatever you want, okay?”
“What? But then who are y—”
Craig poked his phone again and the call went through.
Alphonse wrapped the reins around his wrists. Champ hadn’t quite adjusted to his new hooves. Perhaps he’d accidentally added or subtracted a few millimeters when replacing the appendages.
Ahead he heard rumbling engines and saw headlights. Six men on motorcycles were painting an orange line along the trail. Runners had to jump out of the bikers’ way. “Just six miles left, Boss!” one called.
“Bless you, gentlemen.” The bikers in leather made hairpin-turns to roll alongside and behind Alphonse. “Do the spectators know they must stay on their side of the orange line?”
“They’d better.” A biker revved his engine and onlookers knew to be scarce.
“That’s the spirit,” said Alphonse.
BEEP. Mile 95 (93): 8:58 / 15:18:09.
My GPS watch was drowned out by the other runners’ constant chatting, but I reluctantly enjoyed the waterfall of sound behind the mob. Three hundred feet rhythmically hit the dirt. I didn’t feel like one man. I was member of an amoeba.
Or maybe I was hallucinating again.
“Hey, you!” Whitney pointed at the latest runners to join us. “What’s the news from the front?”
“The horse! How far ahead?”
“Oh, uh, yeah. About a mile.”
“They spray-painted me!” A woman turned to show a line of orange paint across her shoulder-blades. “Some guys on motorcycles said I was in the horse’s way or something, and they spray-painted my back!”
“They split the trail with paint to keep people away from the horse,” said the latest arrival. “You can see the paint starts just ahead.”
“Not a bad idea,” said Whitney. “Everyone out of Jonas’ way!”
BEEP. Mile 96 (94): 9:02 / 15:27:11.
“More than that!” I said. “If you can’t keep quiet, scram far enough I can’t hear you.”
The mob of runners murmured, but moved. The loudest talkers ran ahead or walked a while to stay behind. The runners around me zipped their mouths. Freed from voices, I ran a little faster.
Whitney kept up. “Bitter much, Jonas? Maybe I should shut up, too?”
“No. I need to talk to Thog.”
“I’m enlightened, Thog. I don’t care if I win a million bucks. I don’t care if I lose my legs.”
“I get to stop, but the horse doesn’t. If Alphonse wins today it’ll whet his whistle and he’ll want to win tomorrow, too—and if he loses today he’ll want to win even more.” I panted through my teeth. “Look at all these people. They won’t let this end. Champ will race for the rest of its life, and its kids will race, too.”
“You can’t run angry, Jonas.”
“I’ll run angry or not at all.”
“It’s Live to Run, not Rage to Run.”
“That’s backwards,” I said. “Anger is easy. Self-actualization is hard.”
“You don’t see angry lions chasing antelope across the Serengeti. Just hungry lions. You’re dehydrated, Jonas. Take a drink.” I drank from the hose of her water-backpack. “Win or lose, you’re headed for an elite time. You might finish a hundred miles in under sixteen hours.”
BEEP. Mile 97 (95): 8:54 / 15:36:05.
Kevin wasn’t sure if he should be frustrated or giddy. At the front gates to the Bronson Estate the crowds were so thick he couldn’t pull off the service-road. “Look at all these people!” He honked.
“How’d they get here so quick?” asked Hermes. “You posted those photos just hours ago. These folks must live nearby.” He rolled down his window and shouted at the spectators. “Hey, let us through! We’re race-staff!”
The crowds slowly parted and Kevin parked his car some distance from the front gates. “Jonas will be here soon,” he said, unbuckling his seat-belt.
“We can only hope,” said Hermes, shutting the car door after him.
Red and blue lights lit them from behind. Kevin and Hermes turned to see a police-car cruising toward them, led by a man in a tank-top commemorating the Winter-2018 Colorado-Vet 5k. “Did you hear that, officers? They said they were race-staff!”
A cop with a mustache leaned out the shotgun window. “Is that right, sirs?”
“Uh. Yeah.” Kevin shook the officer’s hand. “What can we do for you?”
“One question: what the hell’s going on here?”
“Man versus horse,” said Hermes. “Alphonse Bronson is on horseback racing a famous ultra-marathon runner, and those front gates are the finish-line.”
“That explains the crowd,” said the officer at the wheel. “Who are these hooligans on motorbikes I’m hearing about?”
“Alphonse’s gestapo,” said Kevin. “They took Jonas’ finger!”
“Yeah, check this out!” Kevin showed the officers Polaroids of Jonas holding the mile-80 flag in blood-stained hands. The officers gaped, aghast, and retched.
Hermes nodded. “I told the 911-responder about it the second time I called, but they didn’t sound like they’d send anyone. I’m glad you came.”
“The… second time you called?” The officers turned to each other. One spoke to a walkie-talkie. “We need backup at the Bronson Estate.”
“Back up, back up!” The men in leather revved their bikes’ engines to make bystanders move aside. Alphonse made Champ trot off the trail into secluded wood. “Clear out! Champ wants some privacy!”
“How far behind is Jonas,” Alphonse asked the closest biker.
“A mile and a half. You’ll win this easy, Boss.” The bikers took makeup kits from their leather jackets and hid Champ’s injuries with coal-black cover-up.
Champ strained to raise a leg for makeup on a cracking hoof, and Alphonse inwardly whimpered. “The new feet aren’t compatible. I shouldn’t have showcased my medical ingenuity.”
“Nah, the feet are fine,” said a biker concealing spur-marks. “You were just off by a little, see? This leg is a tad longer, and that leg’s a tad—” Another biker punched his shoulder and pointed to Alphonse, who was silently fuming. “But Champ’ll get used to it.”
“I should hope so,” said Alphonse.
“Hey! Get back!” A man in leather raised both hands to ward off spectators, but shrank and scurried back to the group. “Guys, it’s the cops.”
All the men in leather groaned. “Quickly, quickly! We’ve prepared for this!” Alphonse tossed his silver pistol to his gang, who hid it in a nearby bush. Alphonse checked his Rolex. “Ah ha! Good evening, officers!”
Three cops stepped off their motorbikes and marched to Champ’s side. “We’ve had reports of all kinds of hooey, Mister Bronson.”
“Hooey is right!” said Alphonse. “I assure you any misconduct is exaggerated. You know we Bronsons aren’t a photogenic bunch.”
“You can carry on in a minute,” said an officer, “but we’ve heard you and your men might be packing illegal arms.”
For a moment Alphonse panicked about Jonas’ mutilated finger in his military-jacket’s breast-pocket, but sighed in relief when he remembered he gifted that finger to Craig. The officer was referring to weaponry. “Frisk us if you must, but make it quick.” Alphonse dismounted. He and his men put their hands against tree-trunks while the officers patted them down.
“You don’t let people into your estate very often, Mister Bronson.”
“It’s a special occasion.”
“Folks along the trail said your men in leather menaced them.”
“Racecourse-safety demands assertion. Surely you understand, as officers of the law.”
“Did you cut off Jonas’ finger?”
“Of course not,” said Alphonse, not lying. He’d blown off the finger with his pistol.
“Your men seem very interested in makeup, Mister Bronson.”
“That’s their business.”
“I like a little blush,” said a man in leather. “It brings out my eyes.”
Finding no firearms, the officers gave each-other thumbs-up. “Okay, sirs, you’re good to go. Although, that horse doesn’t look so great; are you sure it can handle the last few miles?”
“Of course, of course!” Alphonse mounted Champ and checked his Rolex. “Officers, could I ask a favor? You occupied us three minutes, by my watch. Would you agree, approximately?”
The officers shrugged. “Sure.”
“Then it’s only fair Jonas must finish three minutes before Champ to win the race,” he reasoned. “I hope I can count on your testimony, should the need arise.”
“Sure thing. Just keep these people safe, okay?”
“Why, that’s what the orange lines are for! Everyone will be fine if they stay on their side.” Alphonse watched the officers mount their motorbikes and take off down the trail. The men in leather instantly retrieved his silver pistol. “Finish that makeup. Quick!” The men in leather hastily made Champ presentable. “We can only hope we’re not interrupted again.”
“Hey! You!” A man in a tank-top commemorating the Winter-2018 Colorado-Vet 5k ignored the orange lines and strode right up to Champ. “I’m examining your horse.”
“Champ is fine! The picture of health!” Alphonse slapped Champ on the side and Champ didn’t react. “Trust me, I’ve raced horses for years!”
“And I’ve been a veterinary horse-specialist for years. Allow me a second opinion.”
BEEP. Mile 98 (96): 8:45 / 15:44:50.
“Jonas, look.” Whitney pointed at some guy running next to us.
“What about him?”
“A mile ago, he was one of those who ran ahead to talk. Now you’re passing him. You’ve run almost a hundred miles and he’s run less than twenty, but you’re leaving him in your dust.”
As we passed him, the guy pumped a fist. “You’ve got this, man!”
“Wow,” I said. “Honestly, I don’t feel ready to outrun anyone.”
“You might outrun me, soon, too,” said Whitney. “These 48 miles have seriously wrecked me, Jonas.”
“What, really?” For the first time I saw in her face a feeling I knew well: she was bonking, hard. “You’ve paced me on plenty of hundos, Whitney. You’ve never had trouble keeping up—even when I’m pacing you, you exhaust me.”
“I get to prepare for those hundos,” said Whitney. “I get warning—not a surprise phone-call when you’re thirty miles in. I ran an ultra last weekend, Jonas. I had all-I-could-eat sushi last night, and I ate all I could. I’m not in shape to pace you. I was hardly able to join you this far.”
“But… I don’t want to run the last miles alone.”
“Then catch the horse, Jonas.” Whitney fell behind. I ran on.
BEEP. Mile 99 (97): 8:37 / 15:53:27.
“This race is over.” The vet pointed to Champ’s feet. “I don’t know what you’re trying to pull, here, but this horse isn’t in any condition to take another step. Is this makeup?” He wiped a cracked hoof and his finger came back blackened. “Despicable.”
“Yes, yes, I know.” Alphonse tapped a leather jacket’s back with his boot. The man in leather understood, and brought another man behind the vet. “I think my men would like to speak with you, doctor.”
“Huh?” The vet turned and the men in leather lay hands on his shoulders. “Hey!”
“We told you,” said one, “crossing the orange line is very dangerous. Shall we escort you somewhere more secure?”
“Yes you shall,” said Alphonse. The men pulled the vet into the dark woods.
“Whoa! Help!” The vet kicked and pushed, but the men in leather overpowered him. “Where are you taking me? What are you doing?”
One man cocked his shoulder to sock the vet in the jaw, but his phone rang. He checked the caller-ID: it was Craig. “Take over for me,” he said to his partner. “Hey, Craig?”
“Howdy,” said Craig. “I forgot to tell you, we’re on mutiny-mode. Don’t let Alphonse get your hands dirty.”
“Gotcha, Boss.” Before the other man could clock the vet, the man with the phone signaled for him to stop. Instead he presented the vet with an orange spray-can. “You see this?” He shook the can. “We told you not to cross the lines. Now you gotta pay the price.” He sprayed the vet in the face, then zigzagged the paint across his Winter-2018 biannual Colorado-Veterinarian-Association 5k tank-top. “Now scram. We don’t wanna see your ugly mug again.”
The men in leather kicked the vet onto the trail a hundred yards back, then rejoined Alphonse. “He won’t bother nobody, Boss.”
“Excellent.” Alphonse grit his teeth. “But he’s not wrong. My horse is in dire straights. You,” he said to a man at random, “bring Champ Junior to the finish-line. That will give Champ something to run for.” The man mounted his motorbike and took off. Alphonse started Champ down the trail. “That damned vet. He cost us more time than the police, and since we disposed of him, we can’t even penalize Jonas for the delay!”
As soon as Alphonse mentioned Jonas, he heard a roaring helicopter and an electronic beep.
BEEP. Mile 100 (98): 8:43 / 16:02:10.
I only saw Champ for a moment, out of the corner of my tired eyes, but cheers of the runners around me promised I had the lead.
Alphonse spurred Champ’s ribs and trotted alongside me. “Jonas! I wondered if we’d meet again before my inevitable victory.”
I didn’t even look at Alphonse. “Save it for the finish-line.”
“This helicopter above us isn’t one of mine,” said Alphonse. “I suppose the man in charge of my airspace must have his hands full.”
“I bet he does.”
“You should know, Jonas, some kindly police-officers delayed me for three minutes. You’ve got to beat Champ by that much.”
Bystanders groaned in protest, but I was far beyond anguish. I’d resigned myself to Alphonse’s scheming. “What happens if your horse doesn’t finish the race at all?”
Alphonse chuckled. “That won’t be a problem.”
“Don’t laugh,” I said. “I’m running your horse to death. And I’m winning.”
BEEP. Mile 101 (99): 7:37 / 16:09:47.
I wish I felt confident as my words. Beyond just an ultra-marathon’s fatigue, angst echoed from my belly-button down. I couldn’t help but wonder if these were the last sensations my heels would ever feel. Would I wiggle my toes much longer?
“You know, Jonas, I happened to overhear, around mile sixty-something, you fell, and your girlfriend helped you to your feet.”
“In some races, that would disqualify you.”
“You’d better finish this last mile under your own power,” said Alphonse, “or else—”
“Oh my gosh!” said a runner behind us.
Champ lost both black hooves—they sloughed right off. Underneath, Champ had red, stringy, bloody, fibrous mass. Champ slowed to a walk, even when Alphonse jammed the spurs an inch deep. “Move!”
“Thank God.” I walked beside the horse. “Hallelujah, I’m saved.”
“Like hell!” Alphonse and Champ strode their fastest, but I outsped them with an easy gait. “Remember, Jonas, you’ve got to win by three minutes at least! A millisecond less and I’ll take your l—” Alphonse noticed about fifty runners within earshot, and recalled the helicopter above. Could it hear him? “I’ll take the race, Jonas!”
“Jonas!” Whitney jogged around motorcycles to run beside me. “Don’t just walk. Let’s move!”
“Whitney!” I jogged with her and we left Champ behind. “You said you couldn’t pace me.”
“I had to puke up some sashimi,” she said, “and I didn’t want to hold you back. Come on, you can gain three minutes over a mile.”
“What a love-story.” Alphonse reached into his jacket. “Here’s another.” I worried he’d pull out his pistol, but he had just a silk hankie. He held it to Champ’s nose and Champ trotted faster, just behind us. “My secret weapon. Champ has a child—a promising young race-horse who’s waiting for us at the finish-line, and whose scent is on this kerchief. The promise of their reunion will speed us along.” It didn’t seem to help; Champ was hardly cognizant.
“Ignore him, Jonas.” Whitney and I pulled ahead of the horse. It hurt like rebar driven up my heels and through my hips.
But was it enough? “I have to win by three minutes.”
“Just beat Alphonse across the finish-line. Fuck up his photo-op.”
“I don’t think I’m gonna make it.”
“Breathe, Jonas. The horse is far behind.”
I tried. Along either side of the trail, hundreds of onlookers shouted and cheered, but I could hardly hear them. My blood pulsed panic. I was about to lose my legs. I was about to lose my legs.
“There’s the finish,” said Whitney. I saw the estate’s front gates. All around me, roaring crowds urged me on. I felt their cheers like wind at my back.
Then everything went to hell.
It didn’t even hurt at first. I just heard a soft wet tear and felt cold fabric slide down my left leg. I saw my agony in the eyes of sympathetic spectators before I felt it myself.
For the last few miles the ice-pack around my left knee was the only thing holding the leg together. Now it split, and the compression shorts couldn’t keep me from crumpling on the dirt like a jenga tower.
My left knee hyper-extended a hundred eighty degrees, so my own foot kicked my gut. I was fifty feet from the finish-line and I’d flamingo’ed myself.
Alphonse and Champ were less than a quarter-mile behind.
Whitney and twenty other onlookers moved to help me, but I pushed her away and the audience stayed back. “Stop! You can’t help!” I crawled for the finish-line on three limbs, dragging my left leg behind me. From behind the finish-line, paramedics brought me a stretcher, but I shouted. “Don’t touch me!” Thirty feet to the finish, I heard the horse’s gallop.
Phones and cameras flashed: everyone at the finish-line took photos except Hermes, who covered his face in concern for me, and Kevin, who filmed me with a vintage lens, and Sandra and Craig, who just watched coolly. Craig’s subordinates in leather led a black horse, smaller than Champ but identical.
Champ’s approach was unbearably loud. I had twenty feet to crawl.
When Champ was loudest I knew he’d overtaken me.
Then he was suddenly silent. He’d stopped on a dime.
Alphonse shot off the saddle, twirled through the air, and rolled across the finish-line, breaking both arms. If I were racing him, not the horse, this would have been his victory.
I crawled the last ten feet to join him on the other side.
BEEP. Mile 102 (100): 11:09 / 16:20:56.
The crowd went wild, but I flopped on my back to watch Champ.
I saw immediately why the horse had stopped: Champ Junior had crossed the finish-line to meet his father. Champ, having no reason to take another step, did not.
Craig pat me on the shoulder and handed me a beer. “Nice race, Mountain King.” I dropped the can and it rolled away. I and Alphonse were fixated on Champ.
“Okay, let’s get you two on stretchers.” Paramedics moved to collect Alphonse and me, but Whitney fended them off. “Hey! What’s your problem, lady?”
Kevin filmed my wretched leg. “Jonas, you won!”
“Not yet.” Alphonse wrangled a broken wrist to check his Rolex. “Two minutes and twenty seconds,” he said. “Champ’s got two minutes and—and fifteen seconds, now, to finish the race.”
“Are you joking?” said Kevin. “Jonas won—we all saw it!”
“Shh, shh, shh.” I beckoned for Kevin to keep quiet, as if his voice might attract Champ across the finish line. “Shhhh.” Champ settled on his knees to be nearer his child. I sighed in relief.
“Craig.” With broken hands, Alphonse pulled Craig’s pant-leg. “Bring Champ across the line.”
“No!” said Whitney. “If no one can help Jonas, no one can help the horse!”
“But I could bring Champ Junior over the finish-line,” said Craig. “No rule against that. And then Champ would follow.”
“Yes!” said Alphonse. “Quick, Craig! Less than two minutes left!”
Craig didn’t move. He just kept his arms crossed, with a giddy smirk that Alphonse couldn’t see while lying on the dirt.
“He hears you, Boss,” said Sandra, “and so do I.”
“What are you waiting for!” said Alphonse. “I’ll pay you! What do you want!”
Hermes gave me the last of my second no-cheese pineapple-olive pizza. I ate ravenously while Alphonse begged. Then I drank Craig’s beer, despite advice from Whitney and the paramedics. It was ice-cold.
Alphonse whimpered. His Rolex counted down the last minute, and Champ didn’t move an inch. Even the news-copter, espying from too close, couldn’t buffet him away.
I gestured for the paramedics. “Take me away. I’ve seen enough.” Whitney joined me in the ambulance. “Does the emergency-room have a hot-tub?” I asked.
“We’ll get you a warm sponge-bath,” said a paramedic. “You smell like you need one.”
Jonas was recovering from a long run in a hot bath with a cold beer. Whitney knocked on the door. “Come in!”
Whitney sat by the tub. “Good news about the book!”
“We’ve got a publisher!”
“Remember Kevin, from high-school cross-country? Kevin has connections in the entertainment industry, and a publisher contacted him asking about us! They think books about ultra-running are hot right now. They can even get us into The Great Race! That’ll be worth writing about.”
“Wow.” Jonas slumped deep into the water. “Congratulations.”
“You helped!” said Whitney. “I really couldn’t do this without you. I think the publisher reached out because you won that hundo last year.”
“You’re the best runner in this bathroom, and you’re the only writer.”
Whitney smiled. “Actually, you might look like the writer after this. The publisher said listing you as the author would a good business-move. I agreed to ghost-write in your name.”
Jonas sat up. “But—Whitney, no!”
“It’s fine!” Whitney lay him back in the water. “I mean it when I say I couldn’t do this without you.”
“But it’s your book!”
“Listen,” said Whitney. “Kevin said the publisher’s got a plan. They think the book will be really successful, and even more successful if it has your name on the cover. It’s all just marketing.”
Jonas blew bubbles. “Okay, I guess. If it’s for you.”