14th of December – Season 2
What have I done? That was the thought going through Mandla Xulu's mind as he made his way through the parking lot of the Fuel Speedway which was littered with trash. It was the work of the protesters, that much was obvious. While Mandla was thankful that the security had managed to get rid of the rowdy ones before they did something they would regret, Mandla was more upset that he'd allowed this to happen in the first place.
While it had been his father that had basically created Amandla's Rebellion all in an effort to get him back on the Formula-X throne, it was Mandla that let him do it. He could have said no at any time but he didn't. Because the truth was that he wanted to be King again so badly. But that time was over. He'd had his final shot at Show-Down in Durban. Now it was time to move on to other challenges.
As Mandla walked inside, he picked up a piece of trash and uncrumpled it to see that it was last week's issue of the Formula-X newsletter. It was the second article on the front page that caught his attention: "Gauntlet II". The first gauntlet race was such a smash hit success that it was no wonder that Moodwsing had sanctioned another so quickly. But it bothered Mandla that he would have nothing to do with it as all the competitors had already been decided a week ago. That's when Mandla flipped to page three and read about the race that was even newer than the gauntlet. Well, if I can't make history in a gauntlet race, I guess I'll have to give this a try.
John Kloof was admittedly nervous when resident F-X reporter, Toney Kunene came up to him and his wife Debra and asked for an exclusive interview, particularly with Debra. While John trusted his wife and believed in her, she believed in him even more so, to the point of putting him in situations where he had to back up words he hadn't even said. But Debra reassured him that she had this and stood aside as Debra and Toney stood in the interview area.
John was quickly reminded that Toney was not Sherry and didn't have any interest in scandal. "So tell us, Debra, how are things between you and the King now that a year has passed since the turmoil that was the rivalry between your husband and Jim Kieck? And how do you feel about Jim Kieck being back in your life?"
"Well, Toney, you'll be glad to know that we're exactly what we said we were all that while ago: going strong. And we are better than ever. In fact, we're better than before. It's like that old saying about going through a crucible."
"You come out stronger for it," finished Toney. Toney went on to ask about her husband's rise through the ranks and how that affected his business to which Debra responded positively, thanking Formula-X for the opportunities it gave him. "Well this may be a place of crucibles," said Toney, "but you can't deny the joy you get from success."
"Speaking of crucibles, Toney," said Debra, continuing, "you asked about Jim Kieck. Well, I'd like to say that the same thing is going to happen to him that happened to him the last time he met my husband behind the wheel." John immediately sensed where this was going and interrupted the interview just in time to cut his wife's swearing. "He's going to get–"
"I think that's enough for one night, darling." After thanking Toney, they made their way to the paddock. As John and his wife walked towards where The Big Boot parked off, John noticed Mandla talking to Glenwood Jacobs and couldn't help but wonder what that was about. While he knew very well that Mandla's opportunities at his title had expired, force of habit from the past three months made him suspicious of what he was up to. After all, it hadn't escaped John that despite their rivalry being at an end, Amandla's Rebellion was still very much alive, refusing to say die.
"You just don't quit, do you? Never say die, huh." Glen's words cut into Mandla like a knife, really nurturing the guilt he already felt about his part in Amandla's Rebellion. Mandla was aware that Glen had always hated him a little bit, ever since his debut at Show-Down in Downtown last season. He'd felt that he was only here to further his political ambitions. The rise of the rebellion didn't help this either.
However, Mandla didn't feel like he was asking too much. "Glen, you're acting like I'm asking for another shot at the Crown. I'm not. All I want is to be involved in the Twelve Rounds Derby."
Mandla remembered Moodswing's introduction to the contest last week which instantly started trending on Feeder. "Remember the One Kilometer Derby born a year ago? Well meet the Twelve Rounds Derby: it's bouncing baby brother if you will." Moodswing had explained it simply: two racers, twelve laps and the racer who comes first in the most laps wins the contest. He failed to explain why this (and the One K.M. for that matter) were called derbies and never races.
Glen contemplated Mandla's offer. That was the thing about him. Even though he hated Mandla, he was still willing to do what was best for business. "While I'm remiss to say that you taking on Thawn in the derby would be an epic race, nothing is given out for free in Formula-X. So, if you want in on the derby then you're going to have to defeat your opponent tonight to qualify."
Mandla wouldn't have it any other way. "Okay, so who's my opponent?"
Glen pointed. "An old friend who I'm sure would like nothing more to avenge his loss to you from Sunday Night Easter last season."
Mandla didn't have to follow Glen's finger to know that he was pointing at Touch Mkhize. Mandla wasn't sure how he felt about facing Touch again but he was definitely happy to hear that the race would be the feature race of the night.
While ordinarily, John would relish the opportunity to be competing, he was thankful that he didn't have a race tonight as this was one of the rare Mondays where Debra could come to the show – with their daughter Cassie staying at her Aunt's place – meaning John could just chill with his wife. However, when John saw Jim Kieck heading his way, he shifted in his seat.
"Bloody hell," he said.
"Easy," said Debra. "You don't even have to say a word to him, Johnny." John relaxed upon hearing his wife's reassuring words.
"Have you heard?" said the Number One Claimant to King Kloof. John immediately unrelaxed when he realized that Debra herself had no intention of not saying a word.
"That you're a jackass? We're aware."
Jim Kieck was immediately taken aback, having learnt long ago not to mess with John Kloof's wife. "Easy. I come in peace."
"Great. Now you can go in peace. My husband has nothing to say to you. Anything he has to say, he'll say on the racetrack this Sunday."
Jim cleared clenched his jaw in an effort to stop himself from saying anything to retaliation. Instead, he turned to King Kloof. "I really do come in peace, Your Highness."
A flash of anger passed over Debra's face: a consequence of being ignored by Jim. "Listen here, Playboy. We're wise to your act. The only kind of peace you're interested in is a piece of ass. I'm sorry you struck out with Brenda but you're not going to find any here."
Both John and Jim's eyes popped open. It occurred to John that perhaps Debra's demeanor had less to do with anything Jim was going to say and more to prove that the past really was the past and this was her way of making amends for putting herself on the line in their One K.M. Derby over a year ago.
"Okay Debra," said John. "Easy now. I think we should let Jim say what he wants to say so he can go and, as you said, leave us in peace."
Jim spoke quickly, wanting to get this discussion over with as soon as possible. "I just came to say that Touch is facing Mandla to see who will be in that Twelve Rounds Derby this Sunday and that's the feature race. Meaning that my race with Solo has been pushed down to a supporting race. It looks like the guy is still upset about me being Number One Claimant instead of him, huh."
So is that what you were up to, Mandla? This was why he was speaking to Glen. But before John could voice that opinion, Debra spoke again.
"Well let that serve as a lesson to you, Kieck. You're not feature race material and you'll never be feature race material. That role belongs to my husband."
Wanting nothing more to do with this, Jim raised his hands in surrender and walked away. But the nugget he'd given them stayed with John. He wondered if that was what was really going on here. Was Mandla's recent move just to keep his name in the conversation? Was he playing some long game that involved letting Jim have his shot and then take another crack at the Crown later?
It occurred to Mandla that if he played his cards right – winning this qualifier then winning the 12 Rounds Derby at the Year End Bash – he could very well be Number One Claimant when the series got back from the festive break. He clearly still had clout if his race tonight could be billed above the Number One Claimant's. It also didn't hurt that Jim had lost his race to the Gauntlet Runner, Solo Magubane. Of course, Mandla couldn't get ahead of himself: he needed to win this race first before he could even think about claiming the Crown again.
As Mandla raced around the speedway with Touch chasing him, he thought about the last time they'd raced each other in a feature race: Sunday Night Easter. He thought about how he'd won that day. He thought about the technique he used that day, and he thought about how much Touch had improved. Mandla realized too late that Touch wasn't just a drag racing expert when he overtook Mandla in the final third of the race. Mandla thought about how everything had just gone out the window when Touch won the race! Just like that, he'd let his people down again. How had he fallen so far?
When John and Debra exited the Fuel Speedway, John once again spotted Mandla and asked his wife to give him a minute. John then approached his old rival who was clearly waiting for his ride. "Need a ride?"
Mandla recognized this as a simple courtesy. "Nah, I'm just waiting for Styles." Mandla had barely gotten the sentence out when John interrupted him.
"I saw you today." John watched Mandla's eyes widen, confused. "I saw you talking to Glen, conspiring to get that feature race spot. Mandla, haven't you done enough damage?" John was surprised by the guilt in Mandla's eyes but needed to correct himself. "Haven't we done enough damage?"
"I wasn't trying to slight Jim. And I wasn't trying to get another shot at the title. I meant what I said at Show-Down. You're the better racer. My claim is done."
John recognized the truth when he saw it. "So then, you talk with Glen."
"I just wanted in on the Derby. This was me trying to move on."
John nodded in understanding. He then looked around at all the trash. "The truth is I don't think either of us will be able to move on until Amandla's Rebellion is a thing of the past."
Mandla nodded too in agreement. "Well, maybe it will die alongside this year. Maybe we'll come back after the break next year and this will all be behind us."
"Maybe." While John agreed on the sentiment with his old rival, secretly, he doubted it. If the rebellion proved anything it proved that it was determined to die hard.