Carroll Shelby humbled himself before Ken and Mollie Miles, especially whenever and wherever their son Peter was concerned, and Peter was always concerned about something. Seeing his dad’s car catch fire gave him all the more motivation to get himself worked up, and now he was always asking about the brakes.
So, Shel walked him through the new system and showed him how they’d switch out at Le Mans. Shel trusted that he’d boosted Peter’s confidence somewhat. He knew how to talk to kids—he had a few of his own. Moreover, he knew how to talk to Ken.
But friendship with Mollie scared the shit out of him. Thinking about it at all sent him crunching pills for his ticker, and that was an embarrassing display for a guy like him to make in public. Nerves, they said. Always nerves and never his heart.
Cars, driving cars, selling cars, talking about cars. For Shel, it was all business and straightforward as hell. Most of the time, a race was a race. Mollie, though, she talked about cars like they were a metaphor, and Shel knew what she meant. That’s what scared him.
Shel listened to Ken talk about Mollie for more hours than he could count, and so he knew a lot about her and her relationship with Ken. Shel knew her opinions about window curtains, colors that bothered her, when she trimmed her bangs. Shel listened when Ken talked about the way Mollie drove when she was angry (brazenly), what she was angry about (Ken, usually and why not), and what Ken planned to do about it (be honest with Mollie, because she loved him for who he was).
Ken loved Mollie, completely.
He described his love for her this way: his Mollie in a sleeveless dress, her bare arms. He described her love for him this way: she said that if he wanted to take the risk, it was his to take. Just be honest about it. Give her heart an opportunity to prepare for the inevitable loss of him. Mollie didn’t want to imagine a long future with Ken getting fat and old if she wasn’t going to get it, that’s all.
Shel found that he loved Ken. He loved the pleasure of giving to Ken, watching him pick fights, helping him win, listening to him complain about and criticize everything and everyone except for Mollie—and Peter, of course.
Shel smiled to himself just thinking about Ken, and he noticed he was thinking of him a lot these days—especially when he was supposed to be focused on his paperwork. If he had to admit it, he’d been thinking about Ken for a long time.
Who wouldn’t be?
Beebe was obsessed—just like Ken had predicted back in the taqueria, except for who was at the center of it all. Ken and his skill and his talent.
Ken had a particular reliable capacity on the track to know exactly what Shel also knew at the exact same moment. Wait for it, wait for it, now, Shel would say to himself, and lo and behold Ken would move up. It was thrilling and grounding and soothing all at the same time. The wonder of vibration and speed. Each small insight into their car, each moment of evolution was a shared instant of epiphany.
They were shifting a paradigm together, and Ken was putting his whole body into it.
So, late nights at the garage when Shel was up in his office—and Ken was down on the garage floor working with his hands—were particularly challenging for Shel’s focus.
It had been happening more frequently lately, especially as they got closer to Le Mans. One-by-one the guys would head home—or Charlie was probably going out meeting girls—until at last it was Shel up in his office and Ken down on the garage floor, tinkering and waiting for Mollie to come by in the wagon and take him home.
Shel noticed that he would get giddy when only one or two of the guys were left.
It was a similar feeling as to when he started finding himself across the street from the Miles house, sitting on the hood of his daily driver, waiting for Ken to get back. He knew Mollie could see him through the window, and he felt shameless. Be brazen, he’d tell himself. Be like Mollie in your love, willing and consistent.
What did Mollie even think of Shel? Ken never said.
She’d watched them play fight themselves into minor broken bones and barely bloody noses. She’d egged them both on and didn’t take sides with either of them.
Shel had overheard Ken on the phone with Mollie any number of times saying that Shel was acting strange because he’d gotten into it with the suits again. Defending Ken’s honor, Shel found himself wanting to say.
And so it was that Shel really found himself sitting at his desk up in his office, smiling at his paperwork. Shit. Late night.
Pops, Charlie, and the rest of the guys were long gone. The skylights were dark and had been for hours. Airplanes rolled in and out on their own racing schedules.
Ken was down below on the garage floor, working quietly. Tinkering. Waiting for Mollie to come by and take him home for a bath and tea.
Yeah, screw Beebe. They were gonna win with this car. Shel could feel it.
Ken looked over his work and felt H-A-P-P-Y happy. He undid the top half of his coveralls and tied the sleeves around his waist. Mollie had arrived. He listened as she turned off the engine and shut the door with her hip.
Ken felt ready for a beer and a nice long talk with Shel. He wanted to put his arm around him and invite him over to their house for the night. Shel never actually went in their house—he hadn't even made it across the street to their front yard—and in Mollie's opinion it was because if he did, he might lie down in their bed with them and then some. Ken knew she was right. He wanted to prove it. He would.
“Who’s there?” He called out, playing.
Mollie had on her favorite jacket, and her face was flushed. Been driving with the windows down again, his Mollie. She'd brought their picnic basket with her, too, so Peter was having an overnight at his friend's house after all. Good.
No reason Shel couldn't ride home with them. Plenty of room in the backseat.
Mollie lingered just inside the doorway. She rested their basket on her hip, as if the extra beer she brought for Shel made it too heavy to hold by its handles alone. Risk the whole thing coming apart.
"Can I help you, miss?" Ken said.
“I’m looking for my friend. Do you know him?” Mollie said.
Ken wiped his hands on his coveralls. “I dunno. What’s he look like?”
Mollie considered this for a moment then said, “A salesman?”
"Hm," Ken said, "I believe I do."
"Is he here, then?" Mollie said.
Ken looked at Mollie and stifled a smile. She was beautiful. No need to worry about the brakes or the rule book. They were going to win Le Mans. He could feel it.
"What's that?" He said.
"I said is my friend here?" Mollie shifted the picnic basket around on her hip, then grasped it by the handles and gave it a testing swing. It held.
"Who?" Ken said.
"The salesman," Mollie said. She took several steps into the garage, toward Ken.
Ken pointed up to Shel’s office.
"I'm going to have a drink with him," Mollie said. "Do you want one?"
"Has the drink got bubbles in it, love?" Ken said.
Mollie smiled. "It does," she said.
"After you," he said.
Mollie led the way.