Gus Wilson guided his car along the
bumpy dirt road. Beside him dozed Ez Zacharias. It was nearly
midnight. They had seen a boxing card in the city, and Gus was driving
Ez home. He lives just outside of town, and the side road was a short
High in the summer sky, a big
moon coasted along, overtaking a stray wisp of cloud from time to time.
Down in the bottoms, ribbons of mist hung close to the dark earth. The
road twisted sharply up a steep grade and Gus drove slowly until he topped
the rise. Then he kicked on the brakes.
"Hey, what goes?" he exclaimed.
"There's a light in the old Coster house."
"City feller living there," Ez
answered, stirring himself fully awake. "I wouldn't."
"Why not?" Gus asked.
"Because it's haunted, that's
why," Ez said flatly. "Been ghosts around there ever since old man
Coster chopped his wife's head off near sixty years ago."
"All right - laugh," Ez
growled, "but I've seen 'em - pale, blue, glowing things."
Gus let in the clutch. As
the car moved forward, red lights showed dimly through the mist in the
"There's a car parked down
there," Gus pointed out. "I wonder . . ."
He was cut off by the blast of
a horn and glaring headlights as a truck swept up behind them and clattered
past down the hill. In a moment a resounding crash sounded from the
hollow. Gus coasted his down the hill and braked behind the truck.
He and Ez saw that it had crashed into the rear of another truck, parked
partly off the narrow road.
The body of the one that had
been hit was an iron barred cage occupied by a large and annoyed lion.
The other was loaded with canvas and poles. On both trucks were
emblazoned the words; Gay's Gayest Shows, Gus recalled that a small carnival
had been playing nearby towns.
The two men who climbed down
from the trucks seemed neither surprised nor upset by the accident.
The driver of the cage truck was a tallish man with a waxed mustache.
He wore a faded blue uniform lavishly decorated with tarnished gold braid.
The other driver was a bandy-legged little fellow.
"Thought you'd be coming along,
Tom," the uniformed one said mildly. "Something's busted on my truck.
The engine runs but the truck won't move. Thought maybe you could tow
me to a garage - and now you've gone and hit my rear end and got old Horace
"Wasn't my fault, Joe," Tom
"Brakes ain't been workin' any too
good here lately. Old Gay's too tight to get 'em fixed.
And my emergency just wouldn't hold."
"Ain't much harm done - I
guess," Joe said.
"Let's pull 'em apart and see."
Horace Taken a Powder
Tom climbed into his
truck, shifted into reverse, and stepped on the gas. There was a
grinding squeal as the trucks pulled apart, and then the harsh rending of
metal. Tom's truck lurched backward, leaving the rear of the cage a
tangle of twisted bars.
Horace roared, shook his shaggy
head, and leaped from the cage to disappear into the dark underbrush.
"Horace!" Joe yelled.
"Horace! You come back here right now." Joe looked reproachfully
at Tom. "Now you've done it."
Gus and Ez had gotten out of
the car to look at the crashed trucks. When Horace took off, they
edged back toward it.
"Now what?" Gus asked them.
"I dunno," Joe said, "I'm a
lion tamer and he's a canvasman. Neither of us knows about fixin'
"I might be able to help," Gus
"I run a garage in the next town.
I'd take a look at your trucks, but I don't like to be standing around with
that lion running loose."
"Oh, you don't need to be
afraid of Horace," Joe said. "He's just an old pet."
"I'll stick to standard-size
cats," Gus put in.
"Don't worry about Horace," Joe
"Nearly all his teeth fell out long
"Who wants to be gummed by a
lion?" Ez asked.
"He won't bother you," Joe
insisted. "Anyway, he won't come back for a half hour. He never
"You mean he's escaped before?"
"Sure lots of times," Joe said.
"Anyway" Tom interrupted, "how
about fixin' up these trucks?"
"All right," Gus agreed
reluctantly. "I'll have a look."
He got in the cage truck,
flipped the ignition key, and stepped on the starter. The engine
didn't fire. He tried again, giving it a little choke. Finally
the engine caught, but it ran raggedly.
Leaving the engine running, Gus
got out and raised the hood. A faint blue glow danced around the
spark-plug wires and terminals.
"Look at that!" Ez exclaimed,
jumping back. "Pale blue ghost lights, like I told you. This
whole place is haunted."
"What are you talking about?"
Gus snapped. "That's nothing but a corona - electrical leakage of high
voltage." He turned to Joe. "You need new spark-plug leads.
That's why it's hard to start here in the fog and damp."
Back in the cab, Gus eased the
truck into first. But when he let up the clutch, the truck didn't
move. He cut the switch and got out.
"It could be any one of several
things," Gus said. "Might be the clutch, transmission, universal,
drive shaft, or rear end. At any rate, it's a job for a shop. I
can check the universal right here." He took the flashlight, walked
around to the side of the truck and crawled under it. In a minute he
pulled himself out, brushing grass and leaves from his trousers.
"Universal's broken," he told
the group. "Have to put in a new one."
"Old man Gay'll flip his lid
about this," Joe said.
"And you've got brake trouble?"
Gus asked Tom.
"That's right," the man said.
"They been gradually getting worse and when I came down this hill here, they
just plain wouldn't hold."
Gus slipped into the driver's
seat and stepped on the brake pedal. There was no resistance to the
pressure of his foot.
"Got a wrench?" he asked Tom as
he climbed from the cab.
Tom rooted around back of the
driver's seat and produced an adjustable wrench.
Meanwhile Gus had raised the hood.
He took the wrench and, while Ez held the light, unscrewed the plug on the
brake system's master cylinder. Then he peered within.
"No wonder your brakes wouldn't
hold," Gus said. "You've lost just about all the fluid in the system."
Gus took the flashlight and
inspected the lines and hoses leading to each brake. The two rear ones
and the left front brake seemed okay. But when he came to the right
front wheel, he noticed a small amount of the missing fluid on the line.
Closer inspection revealed a pin-sized hole in the hose through which the
fluid had oozed.
"There's a pinhole in that
hydraulic line," Gus said. "Have to replace the hose and add fluid to
"That's funny," Tom said.
"When I started out the brakes weren't perfect but they at least worked."
"Nothing funny about that," Gus
"The leak's so small that it didn't
cause your brakes to fail immediately. The leak probably began just
about the time you started this trip. Each time you hit the brakes you
lost some fluid. By the time you got here and went rolling down that
hill, you just didn't have enough fluid to stop the truck."
"Well," said the lion tamer,
"we got to get these trucks fixed, but how we gonna get 'em to your shop?"
"My idea," Gus answered, "is
for you to catch Horace and then I'll drive you into town. I'll send a
tow car out in the morning."
"That won't do," Joe said.
"I'm afraid we're gonna be late now. We're due to set up the show in
Middletown tomorrow morning. We open at three in the afternoon."
"Can't you go get your tow car
"That wouldn't save much time,"
"He'd have to go get the car and then
make two trips to get both trucks in."
"This is bad," Tom said.
"That canvas on my truck is part of the main tent."
"That's gonna be a mighty
funny-looking show," Ez put in, "with a big chunk of the main tent missing.
Plenty of fresh air, though," he added.
"That's one of those things Old
Man Gay won't think is funny," Joe said.
"Ever hear the story of the
lame man and the blind man?" Gus grinned. "You two are in pretty much
the same situation. Anyway, here's how we'll get your trucks to the
Tom's truck has power, but no brakes.
Joe's truck has brakes, but no power. Tom tows Joe and Joe's brakes
stop both trucks."
"That's what I call real
smart," Joe smiled.
"But you're going to have to
drive slowly and use a lot of caution," Gus said. "Not that I'd
recommend this if it weren't an emergency. You, Joe, will be in the
rear. You'll have the brakes but you won't be able to see so well."
"Suppose I sound a long blast
on the horn when I need brakes," Tom suggested.
"That's a good idea," Gus
"And keep the tow line tight,"
"Especially goin' down hills. I
don't want that line to snap and let me go."
"Okay," said Gus, "now get
going. I'll lead you to the garage. First thing in the morning
we'll put two men on the job, and you'll be rolling by 10:30."
As the two men busied
themselves hooking up the tow line, Gus got into his car and slammed the
door. But reaching for the ignition key, he felt hot breath on his
Turning, he looked squarely into the
whiskered, yawning face of Horace, poked into the opposite window.
"Horace!" Joe yelled.
"You come here right now." The lion crouched and Joe slipped a collar
Ez, who had watched the lion's
capture from a nearby tree, slid down and slipped into the seat beside Gus.
"Say," he asked, "what's the
matter with you?"
"I...I..."Gus began weakly.
"Haw, haw," Ez laughed.
"Gus Wilson afraid of a toothless old lion."
"Not as scared as you," Gus
retorted. "And I can prove it."
Gus got out of the car and
walked to the tree Ez had climbed. In a minute he was back waving
something dark and floppy.
"We'll leave it to the boys
around the garage when I show 'em this," Gus chuckled.
"Maybe I was scared - but not
enough to leave the seat of my pants up a tree."