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THE MEXICALI 1000

Wynn and Lonny, two North Carolina boys, save


every penny they earn working in a garage in order
to enroll in a racing-driver school in California.
When they arrive, they find they have been tricked.
There is no such school!
But they do not return home. Instead, the boys
land jobs in a drag shop as gophers and gain favor
with their boss, a racing buff. They hear about the
Mexicali 1000, and, in their spare time, rebuild their
buggy, Beetle Bomb, for the grueling off-road race
down the Baja Peninsula of Southern California.
During the exhausting race they realize that they
have been unwittingly involved in an unscrupulous
scheme of Mexicos two top smuggling gangs!
Obstacles thrown in their way nearly cost Lonnys
life and leave them stranded in the forbidding desert.
Will their ingenuity and perseverance pay off? Read
this hair-raising adventure and find out!

WYNN AND LONNY RACING BOOKS


The Mexicali 1000
Road Race of Champions
GT Challenge
Gold Cup Rookies
Dead Heat at Le Mans
The Midnight Rally

Wynn and Lonny Racing Books

THE MEXICALI
1000
BY
ERIC SPEED

GROSSET & DUNLAP


Publishers

New York

COPYRIGHT 1975 BY GROSSET & DUNLAP, INC.


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

PUBLISHED SIMULTANEOUSLY IN CANADA


LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER: 74-1898
ISBN: 0-448-11790-8 (Trade Edition)
ISBN: 0-448-13220-6 (Library Edition)

Printed in the United States of America

CONTENTS
CHAPTER

PAGE

I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
VIII
IX
X
XI
XII
XIII
XIV
XV
XVI
XVII

1
10
22
36
44
55
63
73
84
93
100
110
121
130
139
149
155

HOT-ROD CHALLENGE
A TERRIBLE BLOW
SPINOUT!
SAVED BY A BELLE
SURVEILLANCE CLUE
CARELESS ARCHIE
LONNIES VICTORY
BAJA ADVENTURE
CONTRABAND TURTLES
CACTUS GHOSTS
TRICKED!
THE DOGWOOD HELMET
DOWN THE RAMP!
DESERT RESCUE
COPTER ATTACK
MEXICAN STAND-OFF
LA PAZ FIESTA

THE MEXICALI
1000

CHAPTER I

Hot-Rod Challenge

Wynn Redford and Lonny Morris, eighteen-year-old


high school buddies, loaded camping equipment into
their hot rod at Bud Eubankss Service Station.
Now that Beetle Bomb was completely rebuilt,
Bud said he would be lonely without the ripping
sound of the engine firing up and rattling the
windows in the tight quarters of his grease pit.
Well come backas champs, said sandyhaired Wynn, and he slid his tall, wiry frame into the
drivers seat.
Lonny, a stocky boy with brown hair, patted his
exuberant tail-wagging coon dog. By the time I get
all the tools in here, Archie, Im afraid we wont
even have room for a spare bone. In the back you
go!
The hound jumped into the yellow convertible
while Bud looked on. Ill have to admit it. Your
1

buggys a beauty, he said. I never would have


thought that little Volkswagen engine could have
been tuned up to run like this!
Bud had been a racing driver in his youth,
running stockers on the quarter-mile dirt ovals that
were found in every mountain town that was large
enough for two gas stations. Racing stock cars in the
Appalachians came as naturally to the local boys as
playing sandlot baseball.
Bud had not completely approved of the boys
choice of an engine. Frequently he had stood back in
silence as racing fans kidded Wynn and Lonny
about trying to move a cow with a bumblebee
motor. Undaunted by the ridicule, the boys had
made plans to go to California where they had
enrolled in a school for racing drivers. Wynn had
found an advertisement in a hot-rod magazine. For a
hundred dollars it promised:
After one week of our intensive training with
European champion driver Jacques Breve, you
will be ready to embark on a road-racing
career.
Students were to be schooled in a sleek, openwheel formula car, a mini-Indy, modeled after the
cars of the world champions. Eager to attend, the
boys had earned the hundred dollars by servicing
2

cars at Buds station.


Well, I think weve packed everything but the
grease pit, Wynn declared. Looks as if were
ready to leave. All set, Archie?
The dog whimpered, and his tail beat like a gong
on the extra fuel tank.
Boys, wait! Bud sounded concerned. He went
to the cash register, pulled out two 20 dollar bills,
and handed them to Wynn.
I want you to do something for me in California.
One of Nancy-Raes girl friends said she was sure
the kids out there traveling with a racing team. . . .
He stopped and looked depressed.
Buds daughter, Nancy-Rae, had run away from
home. For months Bud had called his old racing
buddies all over the country for word on her
whereabouts, but to no avail.
An auto-racing fan since her childhood, when her
mother had died, Nancy-Rae knew the names of cars
before she could write the alphabet. She wanted to
race herself, but Bud would not allow it. She had
hinted to friends that to pursue her chosen career,
she would have to leave home and do it on her own.
Do all you can to find Nancy-Rae, Bud said.
We will, Wynn promised.
Bud opened the service-station door, and Wynn
started the engine. A puff of black smoke came from
the tailpipes when it fired. After a few seconds of
3

warming up, it began to hum smoothly.


Lonny got into the car and spread a road map out
on his lap. Looks as if we have a lot of crooked
miles for a while, Wynn. Later on its as the crow
flies.
Okay, navigator. You direct me as the snake
crawls until we get out of these hills.
They pulled out of the station, waving good-by to
Bud. The Blue Ridge Mountains stretched ahead of
them, and the early-morning haze was still in the air.
Wynn had always wanted to be a racing driver.
As a small boy he spent all of his free time at the
stock-car racing shops, waiting for every
opportunity to hand the mechanics a wrench or to
polish a car.
In high school, he found a book on driving
techniques by a former Italian champion, Piero
Taruffi. He lent it to Lonny, and the two friends
developed sudden enthusiasm in their physics class,
where they tried to sort out the complexities of slip
angles and apexes.
They even made plans for the day when Lonny
would be chief mechanic on the car Wynn would
race. The Beetle Bomb, which belonged to both, was
their first venture.
Im really looking forward to the course, Wynn
said. Itll be great to talk about more than just
driving flat out and spinning wheels.
4

Lonny nodded. We can learn from people who


know theres more to racing than tromping your foot
on the gas. Wait until old Jacques Breve asks us if
we understand apexing in a turn.
Wynn laughed. Wait until we sit in one of those
little formula cars and he asks us to put our wheels
where our mouths are, he quipped.
The truth is, Lonny said, that I cant wait to
see them. I lie awake nights thinking about how
much horsepower those foreigners get out of fourcylinder engines. Beetle Bomb has almost twice as
much as it was born with, but Ive run out of places
to squeeze in another horse.
Lonny Morris, a graduate of the Wilkes County
High School, had been in the technical program. The
only son of a poor farmer, his strong arms and
shoulders were built up from years of hard work.
Motors had always fascinated Lonny. Years ago,
he had earned the respect of the older men when he
had spent an afternoon tinkering with a rusted motor
at a deserted sawmill. By evening it had exploded
into life.
After the boys had acquired Beetle Bomb, Lonny
had spent long nights polishing the engine parts by
hand. Although he yearned for a taste of high-speed
driving, his main objective was to see the racing
machines in California.
You know, Wynn, he said, the more I think
5

about what I read on European racing, the more


respect I have for those drivers. They compete on
tracks built like country roads, with blind curves and
hills. Anyone can make a car go fast in a straight
line. But it takes a genius to go fast through a
hairpin.
I know what you mean, Lonny. I haveoh-oh!
Whats wrong? The car sounds fine.
Look in the mirror. One of the locals is out for a
race.
Well, tell him to go somewhere else. We have a
long drive ahead of us, twenty-five hundred miles.
And we dont want to end up on our heads before
we get out of the county.
A big car roared around and hovered beside them.
Wynn slowed to let it pass, but the challenger
slowed, too. The sound of Beetle Bombs finely
tuned engine was drowned by the roar of the V-8.
Hey, why dont you put your engine up front,
where it belongs? the driver called out. Whats
that thing for, anyway? Mowing grass?
Ignore him, Lonny advised. Hes just looking
for trouble.
The challenger swerved, tapping the fiberglass
front fender of the buggy. Beetle Bomb slid
sideways onto the shoulder, but Wynn recovered
and pulled away.
Be careful, Lonny warned. Dont play his
6

game!
The V-8 roared beside them again, heading to nip
the front fender once more. Wynn slowed. He saw
the straight road ending abruptly, with the inevitable
hairpin turn. He hit the brakes hard, turned quickly,
and slid through the turn. The rear-engine buggy
roared on the back wheels and regained adhesion as
they came out of the curve.
Lonny watched over his shoulder. The other car
locked up the brakes, skidding with a loud
screaming sound as the tires broke away from the
pavement. The powerful engine made a last and
final lunge, taking the car into the ditch on the far
side of the road.
Whew! Lonny exclaimed. That was really
something!
Thanks, Wynn replied, but I think my apex
was a little early. Nine-tenths perfect. Next time,
ten-tenths.
Our friend got only about one-tenth of it right.
Wed better go check on him.
Wynn wheeled the buggy around and headed for
the ditch. The driver was out of the car and standing
next to it. HARVEY (HOOKS) CONWAY was written on
the door.
As Wynn stopped, Hooks scowled at him. He was
a big man in his early twenties, with a flat nose and
furrowed forehead.
7

Hey, sorry about that, Wynn said. But I didnt


pick the road, you know. Can we give you a hand
getting out? We have a towrope.
Hooks glared. Take it and hang yourself, he
said with a growl.
Well, we just wanted to offer you a hand
Ill offer you a fist if you dont get out of here!
Taking his advice, Wynn made another U-turn
and headed down the road. Not exactly the friendly
type, he said.
And that wasnt a car either, Lonny grumbled.
It was a weapon. People like him shouldnt be
allowed to drive.
Did you see the size of his hands? Wynn asked.
When he shook that fist at us, I thought he was
wearing boxing gloves!
From then on the miles rolled by without trouble.
That night the boys slept in a farmers orchard and
the following night they set up camp in an
abandoned field. The low brush seemed to be filled
with jackrabbit ears. Archie chased them around
until he was so exhausted he collapsed by the tent
with a wheeze.
In the middle of the night, the boys were
awakened by the dogs howls.
I was hoping hed give up his rabbit hunting and
let us get some rest, Wynn grumbled sleepily.
Wait! Thats a different kind of howl. I know
8

Archies cries. Let me check.


Lonny pulled on his shoes and left through the
tent flap. Then he yelled.
Wynn! Quick! Somebodys trying to steal the
car!

CHAPTER II

A Terrible Blow

Wynn scrambled out of the tent and the two raced


toward the buggy. They could see the dark outline of
a man running off into the night. He disappeared
behind a clump of bushes and even though the boys
gave chase, they lost him a few minutes later.
No use to pursue him any farther, Wynn
grumbled. Lets go back and see if he did anything
to the car.
The boys returned to Beetle Bomb and Lonny
took a flashlight from the glove compartment. He
shined it on the ground and walked slowly around
the buggy.
Lets see if our buddy left a clue, he said.
Both boys examined the car and the surrounding
area carefully but found nothing but footsteps in the
damp grass.
I wonder if it wasnt Hooks Conway trying to
10

get even with us, Wynn said.


Way out here?
You never know. He looked mean enough.
Mean enough to steal our car?
Wynn shrugged. He might have just wanted to
fool around with it a bit so we couldnt start it.
Early the next morning the boys drove on, with
Lonny at the wheel. At midday, he pulled up under a
tree to push back the convertible top. A car roared
by.
Lonny looked up quickly. The engine! Did you
hear it?
It sounded like a hot one to me, Wynn said.
No. I mean, havent you heard it before? That
was Hooks Conway!
Are you sure? I didnt even get a look at the
car.
Positive, Lonny replied. Hooks is short on
manners, but he knows how to build an engine. Say,
maybe hes going to California, too. Perhaps even to
the same driving school!
Wynn laughed. He could use a few lessons on
negotiating hairpins.
Crossing the Great Plains, Lonny talked about
hometown events. One was the disappearance of
Nancy-Rae.
I didnt know her well, he said. Did you?
Not really. Saw her at the station many times in
11

Levis, usually with a smudge of grease on her face.


Im surprised she really up and left, Lonny
said. Quite a blow to her father. Couldnt the police
find her?
Bud never asked them to. You know how he
feels about the police.
The entire county knew. Years before, Bud was
rushing to the hospital with his pregnant wife. They
had been on a picnic with little red-haired NancyRae when the emergency arose.
Federal revenue agents, thinking Bud was
running whiskey, blocked the road. The resulting
crash killed one of the officers and Nancy-Raes
mother. It left the girl with a slight limp.
Nancy-Raell come back someday, Lonny said
slowly. Once shes proved she can race.
I suppose shes got to get it out of her system,
Wynn agreed.
Two days later, the boys arrived in California.
They were in a long line of cars driving on the Los
Angeles Freeway when Lonny said, Take the next
exit.
Wynn switched lanes and drove down the ramp.
According to the map, we go up two blocks, turn
left, and the school should be on the corner, Lonny
said.
Wynn was skeptical. As they waited for a
stoplight, he said, Are you sure this is right? I cant
12

imagine theyd have a road-racing course here.


Lonny looked at the rows of tract houses in the
modest residential area and shook his head.
According to the directions in the ad, this is where
the track entrance should be.
Wynn parked and they rechecked their map.
Somethings wrong, he said. Lets go ask the
police.
At headquarters they told their story to a sergeant.
He shook his head, then recited the ad to them.
I know. Four miles of challenging turns on the
model of the best European tracks. Im sorry, boys.
Youre the twenty-third complaint this month. That
ad was a phony! Weve been looking for that
swindler, but so far no luck.
Wynn and Lonny glumly sat on the curb outside
the police station. They had come 2,500 miles to
find their hopes shattered!
I cant believe this happened to us, Lonny said
bitterly. Ive been cheated out of nickels and dimes,
even a dollar or two, but it took a long time to earn
that hundred bucks!
Some road-racing career! Wynn said. If its
the last thing I do, Im going to track down that
crook Jacques Breve and get our money back!
Lonny shook his head. And think of all the other
guys just like us whove had their dreams go up in
smoke.
13

Id rather not! Listen. Lets get a room, a nice


hot shower, a big juicy hamburger, and forget our
troubles until tomorrow.
Im all for that, Lonny said. Even Archie
yapped cheerfully.
Early the next morning, they felt refreshed and
eager to start their search for the swindler. They
went directly to the office of the magazine that ran
the ad, in the publishing district of Los Angeles.
They found that the slick shiny magazine was
produced in a not-so-slick or shiny office. The walls
of the building were stained, and the steps to the
second floor were littered with paper.
They could recycle enough of this trash to print
the magazine for a year, Lonny ventured.
Inside the editors office, they spoke to a man in
shirt sleeves who sat behind a cluttered desk and
introduced himself as O. T. Martin. He pushed back
a shock of hair and listened to his callers story.
Yeah, the guy who put in the ad gave us a phony
name, he said. Ive already notified the police.
Dont like that kind of business, myself. We try to
keep things on the up-and-up around here.
Isnt there something you can do about it?
Wynn asked.
The man shrugged. Somebody comes in and
slaps his money on the table. You have to give him
the ad space. Know what I mean? I dont have time
14

to check out every advertiser.


Lonny asked, Can you describe the man?
Young guy, tall and thin, black hair. Expensive
clothes. Looked like they were fresh off the rack.
That could be anybody, Wynn said. Was there
anything distinctive about hima limp, or a scar?
Yes. There was an unusual thing. It might have
been real, or he might have gotten it from a dye
bottle, but he had this white streak running right
through the middle of his black hair.
One more question and well be on our way,
Wynn said. Now that our money has been
temporarily misplaced, could you suggest a racer
around here who might need a couple of helpers?
Try the drag shops. They can generally use a
gopher.
A gopher?
Yeah, thats what they call guys who run errands
and do odd chores. You know, go for this and go for
that.
Okay, Mr. Martin. And thanks for your help.
Dont mention it. Im sorry, but you understand
my position
Wynn and Lonny shut the door and headed down
the hall. A gopher, huh? Wynn said. I always
thought that was some kind of squirrel. Well, I
suppose you can pick up nuts in a drag shop!
Ow! Lonny said, and he gave Wynn a punch.
15

After two days of trying the drag shops with no


luck, their cash supply was dwindling and their
confidence was down.
The boys stopped for a hamburger. Hey,
Lonny, Wynn said as he toyed with a French fry,
weve got to get out of this gloom. Maybe those
guys we asked for jobs figured us for a couple of
hicks. Come on! Lets take in the drags.
Okay. Theres a big one this afternoon.
They found the strip on the outskirts of the city
and left Archie to guard their car. The drag area
stretched before them like a combination circus yard
and used-car lot. Colored tents were everywhere to
provide shade for the mechanics while they worked
on the dragsters before the racers were to appear,
two abreast, at the starting line.
Because each run required only a few seconds,
lines of cars sprawled for miles around the short
patch of pavement allotted for the quarter-mile run.
Grandstands lined the strip and the extra length
needed at the end to slow the monsters.
Spectators, who paid extra for a pass permitting
them to mill around the work area, peered over the
mechanics shoulders as they prepared their cars.
The air was filled with the smell of burning rubber
and the special fuel mixtures used by the highpowered machines.
What a sight! Wynn said, looking over the
16

field. The dragsters varied from the exotic to the


ordinary. In almost no way did they resemble
regular cars except that they had four wheels and an
engine.
The stock class, however, was virtually a street
vehicle with careful tuning, locked in by the rules to
allow a category for inexpensive cars. This was to
attract beginners who wanted a taste of the sport
before sinking a bundle in a car.
The real show was put on by the exotic dragsters,
with their ripping engines and colored parachutes
that would spin open and pull them to a stop.
Wynn and Lonny had known from the time they
were youngsters that the drivers chore seemed
relatively simple in comparison to the mechanics
work. It took nerve, good reflexes, smooth shifts,
and experience to pilot a dragster; but most
performances lasted less than ten seconds. The
mechanic, on the other hand, dealt with engines
producing so much horsepower that they sometimes
exploded under the pressure. The greatest danger
facing the driver was the damage his exploding
machine could do to him.
Lonny looked into the cockpit of a waiting fuel
dragster. The drivers seat was nestled between two
huge tires in front of the powerful engine.
Look, Wynn. See how little there is to do.
Youve got that butterfly steering wheel to hold
17

straight, you have a throttle, and theres the lever


you pull to release the parachute.
Wynn chuckled. Is that all? I think Ill hop in
one tomorrow. If I get the nerve!
They talked to a friendly driver who stood beside
his car. It was a sword-shaped vehicle with an
engine and two large tires that looked like the
swords handle. Its rails ended with two bicycle-like
wheels in front.
He explained that a driver must practice the
stopping motion over and over while his car is at a
standstill until his reflex action is automatic. Dont
forget, youre going over two hundred miles per
hour when you have to stop, he said.
After you put your foot on the throttle, you must
make yourself hold it until the end of the quarter
mile. Then you have a split second to release the
parachute to slow you down. If you use the throttle
incorrectly, the front end of the car might fly into the
air and bang down, damaging the structure. Its
pretty fragile, you know.
The driver pointed to a car on the line that was
rearing like a horse while his opponent was already
flying along the strip. The narrow front wheels
slammed into the pavement.
That was an expensive mistake, the man said.
That driver got eliminated, and he destroyed a good
deal of his mechanics hard work. But thats racing.
18

Wynn and Lonny walked to the starting line for a


closer look. Between the next two competitors stood
a fixture of colored lights known as the Christmas
tree. It was invented to replace the man who once
stood between the snarling monsters and signaled
the start with flags.
The lights told each driver the moment he could
put his foot to the fuel. If he left too soon, the
electric eye would catch him, displaying a red light
that disqualified his run.
Two more dragsters came to the line, the huge
black doughnut tires oozing softly along the
pavement. The engines revved up and down as the
drivers prepared for the run. A crew member of one
racer ran to the back wheels with a bottle of bleach
and poured it under the tires.
Whats he doing, Lonny? Wynn asked.
Ive read about this, Lonny replied. Its called
a burnout. When the driver spins the tires in the
bleach, it heats them up for more traction on the
actual start. Thats how he gets the most of his
engine power on the ground. The car that reared up
misjudged and it got too much
Lonnys voice was drowned by the roar of the
engine as the rubber doughnuts spun in the bleach,
filling the air with an acrid smoke cloud. The boys
instinctively put their hands to their ears as the two
vibrating monsters raced off down the quarter mile.
19

Behind them, the parachutes opened and snapped


full of air. They spun like pinwheels while slowly
dragging the cars to a stop.
Boy, Lonny exclaimed, if those parachutes
hadnt opened, theyd be on the moon tonight!
After the fuel dragsters came two of the stockeliminator-class entrants. Although Wynn and
Lonny had been in awe of these cars at their local
strip back home, the engines had sounded mild
compared with the California competition.
The boys were intently observing the machines
pulling to the line, when Wynn exploded. Well, Ill
be an ugly catfish! Theres old Hooks!
On the door of one of the starters were the words
Hooks Conway.
Lonny grinned. Cant believe my eyes. Conway
blasted down the strip to win the run.
Hes plenty good on the quarter mile, Wynn
admitted. They went closer to the fence to see the
next entrants pull up. They were in the funny car
class, fuel dragsters disguised with fiberglass bodies
resembling regulation automobiles. They drove up
for the burnout, noses pointing toward the ground
like snouts.
Looks like an anteater, andwatch out! Lonny
screamed.
A black doughnut tire lifted from under one of the
cars as the axle snapped. The wheel careened over
20

the protective fence and with deadly force spun


directly at a man and a young boy, who stood frozen
in terror.
Wynn, who was closest to them, made a
desperate horizontal dive. He hit the man and the
boy, and all three tumbled onto the pavement!

21

CHAPTER III

Spinout!

The wheel flew over the heads of the three people


sprawled on the ground and crashed into the side of
a refreshment stand, tumbling potato-chip racks onto
the pavement. Finally it wobbled to a stop.
The man stood up and helped the boy to his feet.
Are you all right, Teddy? he asked.
Yes, Dad. Im not hurt. The boy brushed
himself off and the man turned to Wynn.
Thanks, he said. We might have been killed if
it werent for you. I should know better than to turn
my back on a race car after all these years.
He introduced himself as D. A. Crawford, and
they shook hands. Teddy extended his, too, and
smiled.
Im Wynn Redford and this is my buddy, Lonny
Morris. I didnt know what to do but to take a dive
at you.
22

Id say a skinned elbow is better than a broken


head any day, Crawford said. Youll let me
reward you for your action
Oh, no sir. I dont believe in getting paid for ten
seconds work.
Dont let those fellows in the dragsters hear
that. Crawford chuckled. They get paid a bundle
for working less than that. Okay, then, Ill treat you
to a snack.
Wynn and Lonny sat with father and son under a
tree, eating hot dogs while the dragsters roared off
the line. Hundreds of competitors would be
eliminated until only two were left in each class to
make the final run to victory.
The boys found that Crawfords interest in racing
went beyond the dragsters. He was involved in the
ownership of two sprint cars and several sports cars.
When they told him about the phony driving school
that brought them to California, he was sympathetic
but could provide no leads to the swindler.
But if youre racing buffs, he said, you should
have known that the name Jacques Breve was
fictitious.
I guess we ought to have checked him out,
Lonny said ruefully.
Tell you what, Crawford said. How would you
like to work in my garage? Youre still interested in
becoming drivers, arent you?
23

You bet wed like a job! Wynn exclaimed.


Well do anythingpush a broom, wash parts, run
errands
Good. Heres my card. See you tomorrow.
Crawford and Teddy returned to the fence to watch
the racers.
Wynn and Lonny were elated. The next morning
they reported for work. Crawfords shop was a new
and exciting experience. Although Bud Eubanks
back home was known as an excellent mechanic
who ran a good repair station, the boys had not
realized how limited his facilities were until they
stepped inside this two-story building.
Lonny let out a low whistle of admiration, and
Crawford smiled. Theres a great difference
between knowing how to repair a car and knowing
how to make it go faster, he said. My aim here is
to run a self-sufficient shop where my men can
make the needed parts. Sometimes they cant, and
thats where you come in. Youll be sent to other
shops for the goods.
Tacked on the wall was a list with each mans
name and the chores he was assigned, with a time
schedule to coordinate the work.
Thats efficiency, Wynn said. Itll be great
working here, Mr. Crawford.
While Crawford went to get the boys keys, Wynn
and Lonny surveyed the shop. On one side, amid
24

gigantic machines that whined, groaned, and piled


metal shavings at their feet, were the machinists.
The gophers would soon learn one of their jobs was
to clear away scrap.
In another section were the weldersgas, arc,
and heli-arc. They could bend all kinds of metal into
any shape. Between the machinists and the welders
stood a tall rack holding metal rods and sheets of
raw materials.
The fabricators, who made custom parts for cars,
walked back and forth to the equipment as they
assembled
their
machinery
on
separate
workbenchescarburetor
scoops,
collapsible
steering columns, special dashboards with toggle
switches. Unlike a factory, the noise was irregular;
and though no one was loafing, it was not unusual to
hear the men singing to the piped-in music.
The walls were decorated with checkered victory
flags and horseshoe wreaths of dried roses that
confirmed the results of the mens hard work, for
which they received a share of the purse.
Crawford caught the boys attention and
beckoned them to his office. It was decorated with
trophies and photographs of championship racers.
An open door on the far end led into a drafting
room. Several men were bent over tables. Crawford
ushered the gophers inside.
These drawings will be given to the machinists
25

and fabricators, he explained. They, in turn, make


the needed parts. Most of our skilled workers can do
their own drawings. We even put our drivers to
work, so theyll appreciate what goes on and take
better care of the cars.
In the distance, a bansheelike crescendo filled the
shop with ear-splitting noise.
An engines being put on the dynamometer,
Crawford said. Thats an apparatus to gauge the
horsepower and give the mechanics various readings
as they experiment with adjustments like carburetor
settings and exhaust systems.
He paused a moment, then went on, We can
generally gain ten percent more horsepower just by
having the dyno give us accurate readings before the
engines placed in the car. Touch, or feel, or a mans
ear is not enough.
The wailing died down, and Crawford led the pair
to the engine-assembly room. It was set away from
the rest of the shop, sealed off from dust and
shavings of the work area, and it was as spotless as
an operating room. The image of the mechanic with
grease up to his elbows disappeared as soon as
Wynn and Lonny met the chief, Carl Ryberg. They
found out that he scrubbed his hands with a special
soap.
Parts were wrapped and stored on shelves in
perfect order to prevent making mistakes in the
26

internal assembly. Several engines were partially put


together and wrapped tightly in plastic to keep out
dust.
When their tour through the shop was over, the
boys were issued coveralls, and the rules were
explained to them. Several men were loading a
sprint car on a trailer for testing on a local track.
One of them asked the newcomers to go along, and
Crawford nodded his okay.
On the way Lonny noted that the sprint machine
was quite different from the light, agile rear-engined
European racers. It looked more like a trip back in
his racing-history book, when the old Indianapolis
drivers sat bolt upright in their front-engined cars
and slid through turns on their skinny tires.
The gangly crew chief, Nick Warren, explained,
The cars might look old-fashioned but this is a
special kind of racing. The machines never get
outdated and put away in mothballs, because the
rules dont change all the time like they do in that
fancy European racing.
A fellow can get a car and race it until it has to
be turned out to pasture. The guy with the most
money isnt necessarily the one who wins.
Of course there have been some changes,
Lonny said.
Sure, but theyve all been made to increase
driver safetyroll cages, harnesses, and special fuel
27

tanks with internal cellular construction to prevent


explosion on impact, Nick said.
The outlook of people in the sport had also
changed. At one time a roll cage was actually illegal
because rule-makers contended that a driver would
go faster if he werent afraid of breaking his neck
for making a mistake.
They arrived at the track, which had just been
wetted down to settle the dust. Having no starter, the
sprint car was push-started by a pick-up truck with a
special wooden bumper. One of Crawfords
mechanics took it around and it bounced off the
ground when the wheels struck the potholes left by a
race the week before. The auto skittered sideways
through the turns like a boat on rough water. The
mechanic pulled in and offered it to Wynn for a few
laps.
Keep the rpm down and just try to get the oil
temperature up so it will be ready for the driver
when he arrives. Remember, you have to throw it
sideways to slow down in the turns. Brakes wont do
a bit of good out there, slipping and sliding in the
mud.
As Wynn climbed into the car, the crew started to
chuckle. Wait until he feels that engine come to life
under his foot the first time, Warren said with a
grin. Hell think hes riding a greased rocket!
The car leaped into action, and Lonny watched
28

Wynns arms as he struggled with the steering wheel


while the mud from the front tires dashed against his
face. Although Lonny knew his friend could not turn
down this chance, he was worried about Wynns
unfamiliarity with this type of car. Wynn gave the
engine a little more juice, and Lonny felt the exhaust
from the special fuel start to sting his eyes. Wynn
went faster.
Wed better get him in, Warren told the crew.
Hes letting it out too much too soon. All we need
is for the kid to overcook the bosss car and take it
into the wall.
Look out! somebody exclaimed.
The racer broke away in the mud and started to
spin. It turned 360 degrees by the wall, the engine
choking off as the car continued to loop. Lonny
heard the sound of rocks and mud on the wall, then
saw a whiff of black smoke. The left rear wheel hit
the wood, and the car slowed down to a halt at the
edge of the track. Wynn sat, stunned, while the
mechanics flocked around to check for damage.
No harm done, Nick said finally. But if youd
gotten a hair closer to the wall, youd have scraped
off more than rubber!
At that moment Crawford himself arrived. The
bosss usual smile was missing.
I think you need driving lessons before you start
turning the wheel, he said stiffly to Wynn. Lets
29

see you turn wrenches for a while first. Then he


looked at Nick. You shouldnt have let him have
the car!
Wynn had a sick feeling of embarrassment and
shame. He apologized quietly, finding words for the
first time since the spin.
Okay, Crawford said, his expression softening.
But remember, a race car isnt something to play
with, and you dont get into a machine and become a
champion just like that!
Back at the shop that afternoon, Wynn and Lonny
worked hard to clean the mud off the racer. Their
carefree attitude had disappeared, and Crawford
noticed.
Dont take it so hard, fellows, he said. I have a
suggestion. Enroll in a Sports Car Club of America
Drivers School. A course is being held at Riverside
next weekend.
The friends exchanged glances and Crawford
went on, I know how it is, believe me. I wanted to
drive more than anything in the world myself. Then
I learned it was a long tough road to the top. Before
you start having any real thoughts about fast cars, I
think it would be a good idea to learn control in a
low-powered machineone that feels like a big race
car but wont take you into the marbles quite so
quickly.
It seemed as though the weekend would never
30

come. Crawford lent them helmets and flame-proof


suits, and they rented Formula Veesa racing class
built around the Volkswagen engine and chassis
with some of the money they had earned at the shop.
Wynn and Lonny spent late evening hours reading
rule books, memorizing flags, and quizzing each
other.
Blue with yellow stripe, Wynn said.
Means move over. Youre in the way of a faster
car.
Black.
Bad-boy flag. You have broken a rule and must
pit to talk to an official before returning to the
course.
Red.
Stop immediately where you are. Theres a bad
accident or some other course blockage.
Their boss had arranged for them to spend a
couple of evenings at the shop where the Formula
Vees had been built. He believed that a driver must
know his automobile inside and out before trying to
race it.
Formula Vee racing, they learned, was often
called poor mans racing because a car could be
purchased in kit form and built in much the same
way as the Beetle Bomb. The engines, gear boxes,
and wheels were taken from standard Volkswagens.
There were no exotic and expensive parts to buy.
31

Lonny was pleased to see the bug engines and


proud to be experienced help to the regular
mechanics. If we have any trouble, Wynn, old
Beetle Bomb can lend us his power plant for a
while, he joked.
Just remember, Wynn replied, we need Beetle
Bomb for traveling, and the racer is just for fun.
Lonny noticed that since his spinout, Wynn had
become more conservative when talking about
racing. He had learned a lesson in responsibility and
how quickly an accident can happen on the track.
To give his new employees a chance to get the
most out of the Riverside School, Crawford had
assigned two of his mechanics to go along with them
to tune the cars. They all left the shop on Friday
afternoon. The mechanics loaded the Formula Vees
on a double-decker trailer while Wynn and Lonny,
along with Archie, set off in Beetle Bomb. All
carried camping equipment for the overnight stays at
the track.
The North Carolinians found that Riverside
International Raceway, one of the biggest in the
country, was located several hours east of Los
Angeles. The surrounding yellow-pink hills were
barren except for a few rock houses and sagebrush.
The winds blew clouds of dust.
The paved track, they learned, wound for miles,
with a difficult collection of uphill and downhill
32

esses and turns that snaked through the sand. The


pits were at one end, with a number of covered
garages and buildings where the mechanics serviced
cars. A grassy area separated the track from the pit
lane, where crewmen could signal their cars as they
passed. On the far side of the pit lane they saw a
concrete wall to protect working men from out-ofcontrol cars.
After their Formula Vees were unloaded and
registered, Wynn and Lonny polished the fiberglass
noses of the little racers to keep their nervousness
from showing.
You know what my mechanic just told me?
Lonny said. My car will go one hundred and
eighteen mph.
Wynn whistled. I guess it makes a lot of
difference when your bumblebee motor has to pull a
dune buggy, camping equipment, two passengers,
plus a healthy hound dog.
The whole car weighs only eight hundred
pounds, Lonny went on. Theres no room in the
cockpit for anything but me, and Ill have to eat a
light lunch.
Wynn slid into his seat, getting used to the feel of
the short gearshift, the tiny steering wheel, and the
reclining driving position for the rear-engined racer.
The top of his head seemed to be level with the top
of the tires.
33

Saturday morning they went through the


inspection of cars and drivers uniforms, then were
given a short lecture on the weekends activities.
After the written test, which the boys passed without
trouble, they began their on-course training.
Students were split up into small groups, and they
practiced each type of turn with a licensed sports-car
racer as an instructor.
During the lunch break, the tired neophytes
gathered in the shade of a garage for a quick hot
dog.
Lonny said, I thought my final exams at high
school taught me how to concentrate, but this
driving course makes high school look like
hopscotch.
Wynn nodded and wiped some mustard off his
chin. I wonder how the local street racers back
home would feel after a taste of this. Suddenly he
nudged Lonny. Lookee yonder!
Hooks Conway was just taking off his helmet! He
had not noticed the boys.
Lets stroll over and see what our old pal is up
to, Lonny suggested.
The boys walked to the car Hooks had entered
and studied it. It was a small European sedan with
the name STEVE SMITH on the door.
Is this your car? Lonny asked.
Thats right, Hooks replied, turning at the same
34

time. His eyebrows popped in surprise. Wh-what


are you doing here?
Same as you, Wynn replied. How come you
have the name Steve Smith on your car? Are you
using an alias in California so nobody will know
youre just a beginner?
Hookss bullneck turned red. Instead of
answering, he lashed out with his right fist and hit
Wynn flush on the chin. Lonny watched in frozen
surprise as his friend fell over a stack of tires and
upset a pan of oil before one leg came to rest beside
a battery. It tipped over, spilling acid onto the leg of
Wynns driving suit!

35

CHAPTER IV

Saved by a Belle

Before Lonny could assist, Wynn rolled over,


jumped to his feet and grabbed Hooks by the collar.
Other student drivers gathered around to watch the
fight. Several tried to pull Wynn and Hooks apart,
but it was impossible. Wynn shoved Hooks. Hooks
teetered backward, lost his balance, and fell,
banging his head on his open toolbox.
With an oath, Hooks leaped up and grabbed a lug
wrench. He took a mean swipe at Wynn, missed,
and poised for another.
Suddenly a girl in a gold driving suit jumped
forward. With her blond ponytail swinging, she dealt
a couple of karate chops against Hookss neck. The
man fell to a seated position and looked up,
completely dazed.
Not that I have anything against a good fight,
the karate chopper said, tucking her suit in at the
36

waist, but Im opposed to mayhem.


As she kicked the fallen wrench back toward the
toolbox, Wynn got a good look at his benefactor.
She was of medium height, with China-blue eyes, a
small tilted nose, and a slightly protruding lower lip.
This, with a full firm chin gave her a decidedly nononsense appearance, which by now was fully
appreciated by the amazed Hooks.
But when she smiled as she helped the fallen man
to his feet, all the severity vanished from her face.
She was a handsome young woman, Wynn thought.
Thanks a lot, Wynn said, but I feel pretty silly
being saved by a belle.
Her smile became a wide grin. Funny boy, if you
dont mind a little female advice, Id suggest that
you get that battery acid off your suit fast, or youll
have more than a laundry problem. I spilled some on
the back of my jeans once and the whole bottom fell
out.
Wynn hurried to a nearby faucet and drenched the
acid, while Lonny and the girl helped him scrub it
off.
The crowd broke up, and the boys and their new
friend walked toward their cars, leaving Hooks to
clean up the spilled oil and acid.
My names Ingrid Larsson, the girl said. Call
me Inky.
The boys introduced themselves and Lonny said,
37

I didnt realize girls were in the course.


Im the only one here, she said. But when I
went to my first racing school at Donnybrooke, near
where I live, there were three girls. I should have
enough hours to get my regional license if
everything goes okay this weekend.
Donnybrooke? Then youre from Minnesota,
Wynn said.
Minneapolis.
I thought you talked funny, Lonny teased.
Inky laughed. Boy, when I heard you fellows
drawling like hillbillies, I hoped you wouldnt drive
that slow!
Wynn and Lonny told Inky about their trip from
North Carolina, their run-in with Hooks, and the
racing-school swindle. She listened sympathetically.
Suddenly Wynn had an idea. Hey, Lonny,
maybe Inky can help us find Nancy-Rae. He told
her about the missing girl and asked Inky if she had
seen her.
No, Inky said. Ive only been in California a
couple of weeks myself. But Ill keep an eye out. If I
hear a girl talk as funny as you all, Ill let you
know.
Thanks, Wynn said, and he gave her the
telephone number of Crawfords shop.
Their attention turned to the track exit, where
Hooks Conways car was being loaded on a trailer.
38

Guess you knocked the edge off his reflexes,


Inky, Lonny said. Hes packing out with the
course not even half over.
Too bad hes leaving, Wynn remarked. Hes
good, but hes got to learn a lot about driving.
Sunday morning the students practiced rolling
starts, and the boys realized that they, too, had
plenty to learn. Now all formula cars were allowed
out together. Since they didnt move in prescribed
lanes, as they did on public roads, it proved to be
quite an experience. Wynn and Lonny found that
adjusting to vehicles on both sides, cutting in front,
tailgating, and swervingwith every driver for
himselfwas quite difficult.
Everyone wanted the same fast lane through a
turn. It was not unusual for three cars to dive for the
identical spot at the same time, with first come, first
through, the other two yielding. A race from the
inside was made of a lot of small races and
challenges, wheel-to-wheel over several miles of
twisting and hilly road.
After the first few sessions, they learned that all
sorts of dramas had taken place out of their sight.
For one, a car had rolled over in the esses and
righted itself again before they had arrived on the
scene.
During the next practice race, the officials put the
red flag up. Lonny and Wynn screeched to a halt
39

only to find that many of their competitors kept


running. The flag was a hoax. Its purpose was to see
if the novices were paying attention.
Their alertness paid off, and they were awarded
points. The offenders were penalized.
Wynn discovered that the cars he passed on the
straight got around him just before he entered the
turns. When he talked to his instructor about his
problem, he was told simply, Youre from the
southern hills. You ought to know the old
moonshiner approach to a curvein slow, out fast.
Either you put your boot on the brake or keep it off.
Dont pussyfoot around.
After several turns of locking up a wheel and
coughing in the blue rubber smoke as the tire slid,
Wynn started to get the feel of hard braking, jabbing
his foot on the pedal.
Lonny was told that he should apex tighter in the
turns, that he was leaving much of the road unused,
with the inside wide open for a car to duck in and
pass him. For several laps he thought about this and
realized that he still imagined cars coming from the
other direction. He laughed aloud at himself as he
tried to adjust to the one-way race-track traffic.
The school ended at about 4:00 P.M. on Sunday,
and the students nervously awaited the logbooks
with their scores for the various techniques. They
picked up their sheets and checked the areas in
40

which they needed more practice. To their surprise,


Wynn and Lonnys highest scores were awarded in
the curve category.
Well, how did the southern moonshiners do?
Inky called. She flashed a logbook, indicating that
she had qualified for her racing license.
Nice going, Wynn said. We should make the
grade in one more session. All we need now is
practice. They always said back home that our roads
were laid out by tying a punctured bag of lime to a
cow and sending her on her way. It must have been
worth something to us.
Hey. Inky frowned over their shoulders. Isnt
that your dog Archie?
The boys turned to see the hound limping across
the pit area. Archie, fellow, what happened?
Lonny questioned. I thought you were in the
buggy? Did you step on something?
The dog lay down on his side, sticking one paw
up in the air.
Did somebody hurt you? Wynn rubbed the
animals stomach softly, and he whined.
Say, does he belong to you? one of the
instructors called.
Yes. What happened to him?
I didnt see it, but someone said the guy you had
a fight with yesterday kicked him.
Lonny lifted the pet into his arms and carried him
41

to Beetle Bomb. I think wed better have a vet look


at him, just to be sure.
Inky knew an animal hospital that was open
seven days a week. I took my girl friend Lilos cat
there a few days ago, she said, jotting down the
address.
The boys thanked her and she left, waving goodby. Then they helped load their cars onto the trailer.
It was agreed that the mechanics would take the
racers back to Crawfords garage to keep them safe
until next morning.
Dont bother cleaning them, Wynn said. Well
drop over later and take care of that.
They headed for the vets in Beetle Bomb. The
hospital was immaculate and the doctor in charge, a
pleasant young man. He suggested that Archie stay
for a few days so he could keep an eye on the
swelling around the bruised ribs. He wanted to make
sure there was no internal bleeding.
Ill miss the old pooch, Lonny said, as they left
the hospital and drove to the shop.
The mechanics were just leaving as they pulled
in. Thanks a lot, pals, Wynn called out. See you
tomorrow.
The young racers took a long look at the
condition of the machines. They need a bath before
we put em to bed, Lonny commented, and a little
polish, too.
42

They worked for two hours until the Formula


Vees shone. It was dark when they prepared to
leave, exhausted and hungry.
What say we go to Bull Heaven, Lonny said. I
dont think I can sleep with my stomach roaring this
loud. Sounds like a race going on inside me.
Lets lock up. Its been quite a day. Wynn
closed the big door and snapped the padlock. Lonny
was already behind the wheel of Beetle Bomb, and
the motor was purring in the damp night air.
Listen to that lullaby, Lonny said, as his buddy
slipped in beside him. What a sweet baby!
They traveled about a mile to Bull Heaven, one of
their favorite hamburger spots. The sandwiches were
thick and juicy, and Lonnys growling stomach
stopped complaining.
Wynn picked up the check and reached for his
wallet. Oh, rats! I must have left it in my driving
suit. I feel like I left my brains in it, too. Wed better
go back to the shop.
So that leaves me holding the check, Lonny
said, and he paid the bill.
They arrived in minutes. Wynn unlocked the door
and as he pushed it open, the sound of breaking
glass shattered the silence!

43

CHAPTER V

Surveillance Clue

Wynn and Lonny rushed into the garage and


switched on the lights. No one was in sight.
Somebody must have broken in, Lonny
whispered. Hes probably hiding.
Or broken out, Wynn suggested. Lets look for
the smashed glass first.
They checked the windows on both sides of the
building.
Here it is, Lonny called out. You were right. It
must have been stuck, and he banged right through
it. Most of the glass fell outside.
They climbed through the window and searched
the neighborhood in vain.
He got away, Wynn said, possibly with some
cuts and bruises.
The boys thought that the intruder might have
slipped in unnoticed when the mechanics returned
44

the cars earlier in the evening.


Then we came in, Lonny said, so he had to
hide until we left. Lucky thing you forgot your
wallet and we had to drive back.
They went into the garage. Now lets see if any
damage was done, Wynn said. They fine-combed
the equipment until Wynn spied something unusual.
Look, Lon. The plastics been ripped off this
new engine. A crumpled covering lay beside the
workbench. The boys examined the engine
carefully.
Maybe its a case of espionage, Wynn offered.
Lets look in the drafting room.
You were right, Lonny said as they entered. He
pointed to a sheaf of drawings strewn about the
floor.
Who could it have been? Wynn said.
Lonny shrugged. Hooks, maybe? But then he
shook his head. No. I dont think hed be that
rotten.
Why?
Just a gut feeling. Besides, we cant accuse him
without evidence.
Wynn went to the telephone and called Crawford.
Notify the police, his boss said. Ill be right
over.
A squad car arrived first, and Crawford followed.
Two policemen, one a detective, studied the break-in
45

and dusted the engine for fingerprints. There were


none. Nor were any clues found in the drafting
room.
The guy must have used gloves, the detective
said. Well check this area more frequently from
now on, Mr. Crawford.
The garage owner and the boys headed for his
spacious home on the ocean at Palos Verdes, where
Wynn and Lonny had rented a small apartment over
his large three-car garage. It had a bedroom, kitchen,
a living room that they hardly used, and a place to
work on Beetle Bomb.
Next morning they overslept, but managed to
dash to work in time, each munching a prune
Danish. Their first chore was to collect work rags
and soiled coveralls for the laundryman, who called
every Monday.
Hi, Clarence, Wynn said, going to the door.
Heres the dirty stuff.
The laundryman, middle-aged, affable, and
talkative, was in no hurry to leave. That your
VW? he asked, nodding toward Beetle Bomb. It
was parked in front instead of its usual place in the
garage.
Sure is. Lon and I built it, Wynn replied.
Are you getting it ready for the Baja?
You mean the off-road race in Mexico?
Yeah. Must have seen half a dozen buggies like
46

yours entered in the Mexicali 1000.


Tell us more.
The laundryman looked pleased. It starts
November first, the day after Halloween, in
Mexicali, just over the border. It ends at La Paz,
almost a thousand miles down the Baja Peninsula.
Wynn and Lonny talked enthusiastically with
Clarence until they were called back inside to work
on the sprint cars. But they had learned plenty about
the race.
The Mexicali 1000 was open to dune buggies,
and a special class called Baja Bug included all
varieties of rough-road Volkswagens. The boys
could run the race together, trading off the
navigating and driving chores to conserve energy on
the long tough haul down mostly unpaved and
unmarked roads.
To enter, a contestant had to be sixteen, the bug
had to pass a safety inspection, and the racers were
required to join the Mexicali Racing Association.
The complete trip would take a bug nearly
twenty-four hours. Drivers rode all night, crossing
the more populated areas of Mexicali and Trinidad
and driving into the Baja territory.
Thats for us! Wynn said. Lets sign up.
While dreaming of the 1000, the gophers spent
their days preparing race cars. Archie, who had been
released by the vet, watched as they worked. In the
47

evening, Crawford allowed them to use his


equipment to beef up Beetle Bomb for the rough
terrain of the Baja. Each metal joint had to be
rewelded and braced, the suspension parts replaced
with heavy-duty pieces.
When they disassembled the sprint cars for the
inspection required by the racing association,
Crawford took them to a specialty shop, where they
learned how metal fatigue and cracks were detected.
The rules, Crawford told them, required that many
of the parts be magnafluxedby a metal x-ray
originally designed for aircraft useto expose
hidden defects.
The process fascinated the boys. In the magnaflux shop, Lonny watched with keen interest as the
parts were coated with a special substance and put
under detector lights to illuminate every flaw in the
metal, hidden or on the surface. Each spot where a
tool had slipped showed blue under the lights. The
mechanic proudly showed them a faulty piece he
had discovered in a spacecraft part. It seemed like a
bolt of blue lightning.
That, the man said, could have destroyed a
multimillion-dollar space shot.
As the days sped by, Wynn and Lonny became
more eager to race, and they brought up the subject
time and again with ill-disguised subtlety. Finally
Crawford promised to let them compete in a
48

Saturday-night sprint race. To prepare for it, they


practiced one afternoon a week on the local track,
learning how to sling the car sideways in the
corners.
Then the big day arrived. In the late afternoon
they joined Crawfords caravan of cars and
mechanics in the hour-long trip to Ascot Park in
Gardena. After their first practice session under the
lights, the pair came into the pits, their arms sore
and mudsplattered.
Boy, I couldnt see anything but brown, Lonny
exclaimed.
When Wynn took the car out for a qualifying run,
his heart thumped as the push truck started him
rolling. If he could only qualify the first time out!
He tried to remember all the techniques and drove as
fast as possible without racking up. When he
finished, Lonny took his qualifying run and came in,
grinning with satisfaction.
Crawford called them over. Good news, boys.
You are only one second off the pace. Not good
enough for the final tonight. But dont worry. Before
long theyll let you start in one of the racing heats to
see if you qualify for a feature race. After that,
maybe youll make the big one, the trophy dash.
They beamed. Only one second, Lonny mused.
Hey, were getting good.
Dont raise your hopes too high yet, fellows,
49

Crawford said. Remember that even though one


second doesnt sound like much, it means hundreds
of feet on a race track.
They started to load the sprint car for the trip to
the wash when Lonny suddenly grabbed Wynns
arm. Dont look around too fast, but theres a guy
Id like to meet.
Wynn turned slowly, dropping the wrench he had
held in his hand. As he stooped to pick it up, he
glanced at the man, who was about to step into a
taxi. He was tall, thin, and well dressed. Wynn
realized why Lonny wanted to meet him. Through
the center of the mans black hair ran a streak of
white!
Get things together quickly, Lonny. Weve got
to follow Jacques Breve!
The man slammed the cab door shut. Wynn
quickly arranged for Crawfords mechanics to take
care of the racer, and the two boys followed the taxi
in Beetle Bomb. The man was driven to a local
motel. He walked briskly into the lobby and
disappeared before Wynn and Lonny could reach the
desk.
Who was that fellow who just came in? Wynn
asked the clerk.
I didnt see anyone.
Hes tall and has a streak of white in his hair.
The clerk shrugged. Disappointed, the boys left.
50

I have an idea, Lonny said. Lets go back to


the car wash. Maybe they know him.
Most of the mechanics were still there when they
arrived. The boys spoke with a number of men until
they finally had some success. An older man
identified their quarry, who was said to be Charlie
Jayson, a character to stay clear of. At one time
Charlie had been a top driver, but a bad accident in
the days before roll bars became legal had caused a
head injury. The streak of white hair was one result
of that accident.
Hes got a mean streak, too, the older man said.
I hear hes not too honest, either.
Do you know where he lives? Wynn asked.
No. Matter of fact, I havent seen him in a long
time.
The boys thanked the mechanic and walked out.
Do you think we ought to get the cops on him
now? Wynn asked.
Lets not jump to conclusions, Lonny
cautioned. Jayson might not be the only guy with a
white streak in his hair.
Wynn nodded. But weve got to check this out
somehow. Tomorrow evening were not busy. What
say we stake out his motel and see if we can tail
him?
Good thought. Now wed better get back to the
garage.
51

The companions stopped working early the next


evening to shadow Jayson. They saw him leave his
motel at eight oclock and walk across the street to a
restaurant. They peered through the window to see
him slide into a high-backed booth. A man was
waiting for him. Hooks Conway!
I dont believe it! Lonny whispered.
The men shook hands and started to talk.
Come on, Wynn said. Well get that next
booth and eavesdrop.
Partially concealed by a group of departing
patrons, the boys slipped into the adjacent booth and
listened. Jayson was talking.
It worked and itll work again. All we have to do
is make a fast buck and move on to Mexico for a
while. Ive got a great new racket starting down
there already.
Hooks spoke in a flat tone of voice. I dont
know, Charlie. Youre the man with the ideas, but I
wonder if the same game can work again.
Sure it can! You take one of those little
mountain newspapers thats always struggling for
advertisers. Theyll put it in. I got a list of thirty
papers in the Carolinas alone. All you have to do is
rent a Post Office box and open a bank account
under a fictitious name. When the money comes in,
you close the account and well split the take. Id do
it myself but Ill have to be in Mexico in a week.
52

As other people walked in, the men lowered their


voices, and after a few minutes Jayson left. When he
was out of sight, Wynn and Lonny jumped to their
feet and confronted Hooks.
Hey! Whered you guys come from? he asked.
May we sit down? Lonny slid into the booth,
blocking Hooks.
We havent been formally introduced, I believe.
Wynn Redford here. My pals Lonny Morris. But
you could say weve already met.
The astonished Hooks was speechless. He looked
around the room as if he might spy Inky Larsson
lurking for a karate attack.
Why did you bust into our garage? Wynn shot
the question and watched Conways face.
Bust into your garage? What do you mean?
Hooks asked with an innocent look.
Okay, skip it. Now, about your friend Charlie
Jayson. Hes cheated us out of a bundle. You know
what Im talking about.
No. I have no idea, eh Hooks stumbled.
We answered one of his phony ads! Lonny
said. Listen, Hooks. Why do you want to get mixed
up with such a character? Youre a good engine
builder and racer, too. Dont let Jayson get you into
trouble now, or youll end your racing career before
it begins!
Hooks sat quietly and listened. Okay, Ill think it
53

over. Let me out of here now. He left, and the boys


lingered over coffee.
I hope we put our point across, Lonny said.
Okay. Now lets get the police, Wynn said.
We know for sure that Jaysons our man.
The boys went to the telephone, and in a few
minutes a flashing roof light signaled the arrival of a
prowl car. They hastened over to it and went into the
motel with the officers.
Now the clerk was more cooperative. A Mr. Jay,
with a white streak in his hair, had been registered.
But he left just a few minutes ago, the man said.
What address did he give on the registration?
one of the officers asked.
The clerk checked. New York City. No street or
number.
I think you misjudged Hooks, Wynn said after
the police had gone. My guess is that he ran right
over here and warned Jayson!
Youre probably right, Lonny admitted glumly.

54

CHAPTER VI

Careless Archie

Putting Hooks and Jayson out of their minds, the


two racers concentrated on grooming Beetle Bomb.
Early one Friday evening Inky phoned. What are
you hermits doing these days? she asked.
Fussing with our baby, Wynn said. We want
to race in the Mexicali 1000.
Then get baby out on the desert for some
exercise, Inky advised.
What do you mean?
She told them about a practice race area near Las
Vegas, which would give them a chance to check
out their equipment before the grueling Baja run.
Im going there tomorrow, Inky said. I want to
test my new single-seater Sandmaster.
Are you entering the Baja race, too?
Sure. Will you come tomorrow?
Maybe we will.
55

All the great off-road drivers will be there,


including Parnelli Jones.
Mention of the former Indianapolis champion and
reigning king of Baja thrilled Wynn.
Okay, he said. See you there.
Lonny shared Wynns excitement, especially
when he was told about Parnelli Jones.
Wow! he exclaimed. I never dreamed Id ever
see him race. And now old Beetle Bomb will be on
the same road as Parnellis Ford Bronco!
The boys told Crawford about their plans. Teddy
begged to go along and got permission. He could
take care of Archie while he watched the racers.
Early the next morning they packed an ice chest full
of refreshments, loaded special off-road racing tires
into the car, and were on their way by daylight.
On the long ride across the desert, they saw an
occasional wooden shack with no windows, where
some old recluse might have retreated to escape the
city life of Los Angeles. Decrepit car hulks sat
rusting and sinking, slowly being covered by the
wind-driven sand. Although there was some
sagebrush and cactus, the wind blew across the
desert unhampered, making sanddrifts on the
highway and peppering the open buggy with sand.
The boys and Teddy wore goggles while they
moved through the yellow dust cloud. Blinking,
Archie covered his eyes with his paws.
56

At the race site, the boys unloaded their tool box


and racing wheels, leaving Teddy to watch their
possessions. Archie pulled at his leash, eager to
break away and loosen up his limbs in a run across
the burning sand. Lonny warned the boy to keep him
in tow, because he might disturb the racers that were
already on practice runs.
The site of the practice session was much like the
area they had crossed to get there, except that there
was a course marked with pylons to keep the cars
traveling safely within bounds. Repeated use had
caused the once-flat desert to drift and shape into
dunes, giving the drivers a variety of hills and
valleys on which to test their cars.
Lonny jacked up the buggy and put on the special
desert-racing tires marked with a deep tread for
traction in the sand. He stacked the four street
wheels that he had removed and lifted Teddy on top
to give him a better view, handing him the end of
Archies leash.
Other competitors were trying out the course.
Buzzing over the dunes, the cars spun out
frequently, often tipping up on two wheels as the
drivers tried to find the limit of adhesion in the loose
sand. Lonny instinctively looked around for
emergency vehicles and when he spotted an
ambulance and tow truck, he knew they were well
covered.
57

At the edge of the track he watched a buggy come


over a hill. It was fitted with driving lights that
resembled eyes, and the roll cage towered like
antennas on a strange insect. All four wheels left the
ground, causing the engine to race loudly as the car
leaped from the crest of the hill down the side.
The wheels moved loosely on the suspension,
adjusting the vehicle to the potholes in the course.
But the driver and passenger were bounced
mercilessly in their seats, even though they were
strapped across their laps and shoulders. Both wore
bandannas across their mouths for protection from
the dust.
Lonny called to his partner. Hey, Wynn. This is
what its going to be like on the moon in a few
years. Buggies everywhere.
The boys climbed aboard Beetle Bomb and
buckled their belts. Wynn was in the drivers seat.
They waved at Teddy and took off for a few runs
over the dunes.
All cars were going in one direction to prevent
mishaps in the dust that was now rising and reducing
visibility. Wynn noted that it was like moving on a
cloud. The dust hung in a pall, completely covering
everything 3 feet off the ground.
Lonny coughed. You could run over a cactus
here and never see it!
Wynn struggled with the wheel as the buggy hit
58

potholes pounded out by the cars ahead.


Inky had a good idea, though, he said. We
needed a taste of this! He grinned and wiped dust
off his mouth. Got to remember to add some items
to our list for the Bajabandannas and good, heavy
driving gloves, for instance.
Time and again the steering was wrenched from
Wynns grip as he sped along, the back end of the
buggy fishtailing in the loose sand. He increased his
speed to prevent wheelspin and avoid getting stuck.
Now the dust was thicker than ever. Suddenly
Lonny screamed. Wynn! Look out! Its that crazy
Archie!
The hound leaped up through the dunes, his leash
trailing. Wynn swerved and missed him, but the
buggy dropped the left rear wheel into a deep hole,
tipped over on the drivers side, crashed to the sand,
and stopped with its wheels turning in the air!
Wynns body fell against the ground, and Lonny
was pressed tightly against him. The seat belts had
held fast, and when all was still, Lonny struggled to
get out of his harness. While fumbling for the
buckles, he heard Wynn moaning. People were
surrounding the buggy. Someone lifted Lonny out,
and he dropped to his knees beside his partner.
Wynn, where do you hurt?
The injured boy groaned again and looked up at
his friend. My side. Real bad.
59

While Lonny undid the harness, two men pushed


through, carrying a stretcher. They slid Wynn gently
onto it and lifted him into the waiting ambulance.
Just then Teddy ran up breathlessly with a rope tied
to Archie.
I couldnt help it, Lonny! He got away from me
after those crazy road runners! Teddy stared at the
ambulance and was near tears.
I know it wasnt your fault, Lonny said. Dont
worry too much now. Wynnll be all right.
The two waited beside the ambulance for word on
Wynn while watching the rescue crew right the
buggy. It was rolled off the course and back to the
starting area so the racers could resume their
practice. From a distance it appeared unharmed.
Finally the attendant emerged from the
ambulance. Relax. Nothings broken, he told
Lonny. But hes got some pretty serious bruises on
the ribs. Well take him back to L. A. for a few days
in General Hospital.
Lonny went to the ambulance window and tapped
on the glass. Wynn looked up. Hey buddy. You
okay?
It only hurts when I laugh, and I dont plan to do
much of that for a while. Hows the buggy?
Looks good as new, but I havent checked it
over yet. We ought to weld a side brace into the roll
cage. If this had happened in rocks instead of sand,
60

both you and Beetle Bomb might have been writeoffs.


The ambulance driver climbed in and started the
engine.
Lonny waved to Wynn and called out, See you
tonight!
Then he and Teddy went to change the wheels on
Beetle Bomb and gather their gear. After a cold
lunch, they set off on the return trip. Beetle Bomb,
only slightly scratched and dented, was in running
order. On the way out Lonny looked around for Inky
Larsson but could not spot her. Parnelli Jones was
not in sight, either, among the dozens of practicing
racers.
That evening Lonny checked on Wynn at the
hospital. He found him comfortable but somewhat
wan. He needed quiet for a few days, but was only
bruised. Lonny assured his friend that Beetle Bomb
was no worse off than he was, just a few bangs on
the paint job that could be repaired by the time
Wynn was ready to try again.
Archies thoroughly ashamed of himself,
Lonny said, laughing. He may even give up
watching races. Too dangerous.
Lonny had just left the hospital when Inky
Larsson popped her head in the door.
How you doing, kid? First you, then the carin
that order. Inky explained that she had arrived for
61

practice late and had learned of Wynns accident


from the other drivers.
Wynn told her what happened, and Inky said,
You hillbillies are pretty rugged people. But youll
never win the Baja with your wheels in the air!
Wynn made a face. Very funny.
To cheer him up, the girl related some tidbits
about Baja that she had picked up at the desert
course. Finally she said, Well, Id better get back to
work on my car. Cant let the competition distract
me with their fancy driving techniques.
Inky, no kidding. I really appreciate your
coming byand the tip on the practice course.
She grinned and patted his hand. I didnt figure
youd want to practice turning over, but I guess it
takes all kinds.
As she rose to leave, Wynn said, Stop by the
shop next week if you get a minute. Id like you to
see the setup and meet Mr. Crawford.
Sure will. Id be very proud to meet him. Hes a
respected man here in California. By the way,
Wynn, speaking of meeting people. Nancy-Rae
sends her best!

62

CHAPTER VII

Lonnys Victory

Wynn sat up, wincing from the pain in his side.


Where did you see her?
At Willow Springs. She talks just like you all.
Where does she live?
She didnt tell me. But she said she might enter a
motorcycle in the Baja race. See you.
Inky disappeared down the hospital corridor.
Before her footsteps had reached the end of the hall,
Wynn had his note pad in his hand and was writing a
letter to Bud Eubanks. Wynn knew Bud had been
checking the mailbox for some word on her
whereabouts every day since they left.
In the letter, Wynn assured him he would try to
talk to Nancy-Rae after he was out of the hospital.
He felt their paths would cross soon. Then he told
Bud about their adventures, including being
swindled by Jayson. Hes planning some more
63

phony ads, the kind that suckered Lonny and me,


he wrote. Be on the lookout for them and send me a
copy by air mail, special delivery, as soon as one
appears.
Lonny worked on the buggy late the next night in
the garage under their apartment. Teddy was at his
side constantly, asking questions, washing parts, and
polishing.
Youre getting to be good help, Teddy, Lonny
told him. I think wed better start counting you in
on our crew.
The boy beamed as he scrubbed wheel bearings
in a tub of solvent. He had been around his father
long enough to know the importance of perfection in
racing and the care that must be taken with every
auto part. He had talked Crawford into letting him
go along to greet the boys in La Paz at the end of the
race.
The garage door opened. Well, I never have any
trouble finding Teddy these days, Crawford said
cheerfully. Are you about to make a mechanic out
of him, or is he getting in the way?
The boys frown changed to a grin as Lonny
answered, Hes topflight, Mr. Crawford. As
meticulous and careful as any racing mechanic Ive
ever known. Checking and double checking
everything. And he pays attention. All he needs is a
little experience.
64

Crawford patted his son on the head, as the boy


scrubbed the shiny metal with an old toothbrush.
Speaking of experience. All my drivers are tied
up, testing the sports cars at Willow Springs the next
few days. I wonder if youd like to drive a midget in
a rookie race tomorrow. I just bought it and would
like to see what you think of it.
At the thought of racing a smaller version of the
sprint car, Lonny felt butterflies in the pit of his
stomach.
Me drive?
Why not? You can take it easy and not get in
over your head. I want some feedback on the car.
We can use the race for a test session. I like my
mechanics to drive occasionally.
Sure. I mean, dont think I dont want to try it.
And Ill be careful. I just never thought of myself as
a driver. Something about the difference between
the nut who turns the wheel and the one who turns
the wrenches.
Suit up tomorrow by six and well go out for
practice before the race. Crawford walked out the
door, and Teddy began to jump around.
Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!
Hold it, kid. Dont get too excited yet. Your dad
will put me out to pasture if I run his car into the
wall. I can get a bolt on straight, but right now Im
not so sure about my head.
65

The next evening, under the lights of Ascot Park,


Lonny took the car out for a few warm-up laps. He
let it out a little more each time, like a frisky colt, as
he adjusted to the wheels sliding in the mud in the
turns. When he threw the front wheels sideways, the
car slowed and side-slipped through the turns. Nick
Warren instructed him carefully during each break
period.
Gradually throw the car sideways and slide it
hard. Thatll scrub off more speed and youll be able
to go down the straights faster. I want you to get the
feel of everything first. Then well see how you do
when the traffic gets tighter out there.
After his qualifying run, Lonny found that he had
placed in the center of the pack. His head throbbed
from concentration and the alcohol fumes that filled
his nostrils. After the push start, he moved around
the track in the group and realized for the first time
that he could not hear his own engine over the roar.
He felt propelled and moved in rhythm with the
other cars through the turns as they attempted to line
up for the green flag. The helmet was closed tight
around his ears, and his shield was becoming
speckled with mud from the wheels of his own car
and those in front of him. Crawford had rigged a
stack of tear-off shields for his goggles that could be
snatched free on the straightaway when visibility
dimmed.
66

The midget pounded up and down as the


speedsters roughed up the track, and it seemed to
surge forward in spurts as it reacted to the potholes.
The green flag was in the starters hands as Lonny
came around the turn before the straight. The roar of
the engines rose. It was going to be a start!
When the flag dropped, Lonny put his foot to the
floor, and his car lunged with the pack. In the first
turn, he moved past two other drivers and took the
high line through the turn. But one of the cars passed
him again on the exit.
After the first lap, he realized that the speed and
concentration at the moment would be too great for
him to see the pitboard in Teddys hand, indicating
his position. He could think of nothing but the track
in front and the cars beside him.
The race instantly narrowed down to a fight
between Lonny and whoever happened to run
alongside. It didnt matter whether they were racing
for the first or last place. The competition felt the
same.
As Lonny approached the first turn on the fifth
lap, he saw a car ahead of him go sidewaystoo far
sidewaysand the number flashed in his face as it
spun around, once, twice. He moved low to the
apron, clearing the spinning car. The yellow flag
was out, indicating no passing. All contestants had
to hold their positions until the vehicle was restarted.
67

The deafening noise and rising fumes subsided


briefly while the midgets moved slowly, maintaining
their positions. Lonny passed the pits, and now he
could see Teddy. A five was on the board!
Impossible! How could he be in fifth place after
passing only one car? Lonny looked in the pit lane
and saw a row of steaming midgets. There was his
answer. Many of the front runners had dropped out!
The green flag waved again and they were off
once more. Traffic grew sparser as the number of
competitors decreased. Lonny pulled away a tear-off
goggle shield, and everything became brighter. This
time, as he passed the car in front, he held his
position coming out of the turn. He started a mental
count. Fourth. If Teddy was right, he was fourth.
As he passed the pits, the row of boards was now
visible. L-4four laps to go. Lonny counted them
as the leaders pulled far ahead. He drove hard,
feeling the heat of the man behind him trying to
regain his lost position.
Then it happened. The lead car spun. The other
two slowed to go around, and Lonny found himself
sailing through a hole between the sprawling
competitors. It was almost as if he could hear the
nerf bars on the side scraping as he sprang into the
clear.
One rear wheel touched another midget slightly,
but he controlled the bobble by putting his foot on
68

the throttle. As he emerged from the last turn and


looked into the starters box, he saw the checkered
flag folded in the mans hand. He waved it, snapping
it above Lonnys head.
The boy thought he heard a cheer, but he wasnt
sure. Had he won? Was he the first to get the flag?
His head was too full to think clearly.
Lonny pulled into the pits and saw Crawford
running up to him. Hey buddy, dont come in
here, his boss shouted. They have a special place
for the winner.
Youve got to be kidding!
No, sir. You won it. Get over to the victory
circle and kiss the race queen. With a chuckle,
Crawford added, I thought I told you this was just
to be a test session.
Stunned, Lonny climbed out of the midget, and it
was pushed to the winners circle. Teddy ran up to
him, squealing. Maybe you shouldnt spend all
your time being a mechanic, huh?
Thats what I say. Lonny turned to the speaker.
He was the owner of the car that had run first and
spun on the last lap. Im looking for a driver who
can keep it all going in the right direction, he
continued. Are you interested?
A driver? Me? No thanks. I mean I know Im a
driver. Well, sort of. But I work for Mr. Crawford,
and thats where I want to stay.
69

A pretty girl presented him with a silver cup, and


the kiss she planted on his grimy cheek made Lonny
show pink through the dirt. Teddy grinned as they
walked back to the pits, where Crawford shook the
winners hand.
A guy tried to hire him already, Daddy, Teddy
reported. But he wouldnt go.
If you want more driving time, Lonny, maybe
you should take it, Crawford said kindly. I have to
stick to contracts with my drivers for the rest of the
season and cant guarantee you much
I like it where I am, Mr. Crawford, Lonny said.
Today I just had a lucky break. But Ive got a lot to
learn and I think youre the person to teach me.
Crawford patted him on the shoulder.
The next day, at the hospital, Lonny told Wynn of
his victory.
Great going, old buddy, the patient said. I
cant believe how much Ive missed in just a few
days. Ill admit it, Lonny, Im jealous. Ive got to get
out of this place. No medicine in the world would be
better for me now than a little action.
As he spoke, an interne entered the room.
Hi, Dr. Kildare, Wynn said. Meet my friend
Lonny.
The physician smiled and shook hands. Another
auto racer?
Yes. But not an amateur like me. He won the
70

rookie race at Ascot.


And came out in one piece, I see. Well, lets
look you over, Joe Crashcog.
The doctor swung the curtain around Wynns
bed, and Lonny waited for the verdict. In a few
minutes the curtain hissed open again.
Hows he doing, Doc? Lonny asked.
Fine. Want to take him home?
Sure. When?
Tomorrow morning. Between ten and eleven.
What beautiful words! Wynn said. Listen,
Lonny. Lets mosey down to Baja for a look-see and
a little relaxation.
The doctor gave him a sidelong look, and Wynn
laughed. Dont worry, Doc. Its all in the interest of
racing.
Just then, Inky came in and heard their plan. She
wanted to go along.
In Wynns condition, she quipped, he needs a
racing nurse to look after him.
By the end of the week, the friends were packed
and on their way south. Wynn had fully recovered,
and the carefree trio drove happily through the
teeming border town of Mexicali. Streets were
jammed with honking cars, and every inch of space
was filled with wriggling humanity.
They stopped in a restaurant for enchiladas to
escape the crowds and to eat real Mexican food.
71

Over a platter of sopapias, Inky said, I forgot to tell


you before, but I hope you guys know about the
entry fee for the Mexicali 1000. It almost floored me
when I found out. Three hundred dollars per car.
Three hundred dollars! Lonny exclaimed.
Oh, no! Wynn said. I feel like a dunce. We
were thinking so much about the car that we didnt
bother to ask about the fee.
Inky nodded. I cleaned out my savings account,
she said. She pulled a cooling mouthful of Coke
through her straw and glanced up at an approaching
figure.
Seores and Seorita, a husky man with a
mustache said, towering over their table. I am
Seor Gavilan and could not help but overhear your
conversation. If you need money, I can help you!

72

CHAPTER VIII

Baja Adventure

How can you help us? Wynn asked the smiling


stranger.
By giving you a chance to make big money, he
replied.
Inky wrinkled her nose in an expression of
distrust. Ill give you five seconds to name ten
honest ways to make big money, she said curtly.
The Mexican looked confused for the moment.
Lonny asked, What do you want us to do?
I need someone to drive for me a big truck up
from La Paz. I am getting old. My back, it cannot
take the rough roads.
Inkys nose wrinkled again. The man did not look
much over forty. Whats in the truck? she asked.
Contraband?
Oh no, no! said Seor Gavilan. You do not
cross the border. I just want you to drive the truck to
73

Mexicali.
Marijuana? Inky asked quickly.
Seor Gavilan laughed nervously. The seorita
is a very suspicious person. There are many ways to
fill trucks that are not illegal. This will bring
pleasure to many little children. It is a load of
animals collected in the Baja territory for the zoo in
Mexicali.
Inkys face softened a little, and he added
quickly, I will pay you seven hundred dollars.
Seven hundred? Wynn asked. For driving a
truck a thousand miles? Why dont you get a
professional trucker for the job?
I have tried, Gavilan replied. But the few who
are available say it is too hard work. I overheard you
say that you are auto racers. What better could I
hire?
Hes probably right, Lonny said. It takes a lot
of driving experience to horse a truck over the worst
roads in North America.
Wynn said, Well talk it over, Seor Gavilan,
and give you an answer in a few minutes.
The man smiled and went to the bar. Inky
watched him light a cigarette and say something to
the bartender.
What do you think, Inky? Lonny asked. You
dont trust the guy, do you?
Not completely. On the other hand, seven
74

hundred dollars would cover your entrance fee and


we could consider the trip a prerun for the Baja. The
best route to go is over the course laid out for the
race. Ive been there once before with my father and
know the area a little.
Thats right, Lonny said, getting excited. And
we could make a set of navigational notes. You
know, like, bridge out, water here, boulder there.
Then wed know what to expect up ahead.
It cant hurt to see the area at a casual pace
anyway, Wynn added. I understand Baja is a
fascinating place to explore.
If Mr. Crawford will let us off for a few days,
Im for the job, Lonny declared.
Okay with me, Inky said. What have we got to
lose?
Lonny nodded and beckoned to Seor Gavilan.
The boys told him of their decision.
Bueno! Gracias! the Mexican said, as he
pulled up a chair. Then, taking out pen and paper, he
drew a map, showing them where to find the truck in
La Paz. On their return, they were to bring it to this
restaurant.
What about the money? Inky asked. How and
where do we get it?
Seor Gavilan showed his teeth in a big smile and
nudged Lonny with his elbow.
Women, he said jokingly. They always look to
75

the money. You will receive three hundred-fifty at


La Paz, and the rest when you deliver the shipment.
Saben?
Okay, Wynn said. When shall we start?
Monday. And dont bother with the check. He
motioned to the waiter and spoke rapidly in Spanish.
The waiter nodded, and Inky said something in
Spanish.
Gavilan smiled, waved, and left.
Hey, we didnt know you could speak that
lingo, Wynn said. Whatd you tell him?
Just thanked him for his generosity, Inky said.
And told him I expect him to be on the level!
On the way back to Mr. Crawfords house in Los
Angeles, the boys discussed their new adventure. As
soon as they arrived, they asked their boss for a few
days off. He was eager for them to make the prerun,
and Teddy thought it would be great fun. But like
Inky, Crawford was not altogether sure that the deal
was honest. He told them about some gold mines
that he once owned in Baja. According to the
natives, they had mysteriously stopped producing.
After a trip across the border to check on this, he
found that gold had been mined, but there was no
record of its shipment.
Who was responsible for the theft? Lonny
asked.
Bandits, or gangsters, I suppose youd call
76

them. Crawford frowned. I hired an investigator,


who uncovered the information and got shot at while
doing his job. He learned that there are several
competing bandit gangs in Baja that operate with
impunity.
Inky said, Ive read that the natives are
vulnerable to outsiders because they are unaware of
the wealth of their country. For years theyve been
victimized by opportunists, often never knowing
theyve been hoodwinked.
Thats true, Crawford said. Let me tell you
about Scammon, the whaler. Theres an inlet in Baja
named Scammons Lagoon, after the scoundrel. He
used to bring in his boats and kill the mother whales
when they stopped off in the quiet waters to give
birth to their young. He nearly caused the extinction
of the California blue whale.
What a pity, Inky said sadly.
But therere more whales now, Teddy reassured
her. Last year Daddy and I went out in a boat and
watched them pass the California coast on the way
south.
They chatted until late that night, Crawford and
Inky exchanging Baja stories, until she had to leave.
Well set off tomorrow, Wynn said. You can
leave your car here.
Crawford supplied the boys with maps, warning
that after they went from the Baja state into the Baja
77

territory at El Arco, the roads were not marked.


Its not unusual, he said, for a bridge to be
washed out and no signs posted. So be careful.
Early the next morning, Inky arrived at the boys
place just as Lonny was lifting an extra can of
gasoline into Beetle Bomb.
You have another container or two? she asked,
tossing her duffel bag on board.
What for? Wynn asked.
Water. We should have two five-gallon cans.
Wynn wondered why, but decided not to ask.
Inky usually knew what she was doing. He filled
two cans and added them to the load the car had to
carry to La Paz. When all was ready, Inky and
Archie squeezed into the back.
I guess Archie and I will have to take turns
sitting on each others laps, Inky said. Theres just
not enough room!
They waved to Crawford and set out. On the way,
they obtained Mexican tourist cards and proceeded
from San Diego over the border into Tijuana. The
travelers were amazed at the similarity of Tijuana
and Mexicali. As soon as Beetle Bomb passed
through the gates into the town, they seemed to
move back in time. Cars were suddenly ten years
older, and most of the streets were not paved. Many
of the merchants carried their wares on burros.
Archie yelped when Beetle Bombs wheels
78

dropped into an unmarked pothole, but Wynn


expertly dodged through the traffic and around
jaywalking pedestrians who ignored automobiles.
Some new buildings were sandwiched between
old, dilapidated structures. Peddlers ran beside the
car, trying to sell pottery, shiny birdbaths with
squares of mirrors embedded in their surfaces, and
upholstery fabrics.
Make your car look like a million bucks! a
young Mexican boy called. Put leopard-skin covers
on seats. Look like real.
No thanks, Lonny said. Our buggy isnt that
ferocious.
They passed by the cardboard city of the Tijuana
poor in the river bottom, houses pieced together with
boxes and scraps of junked autos.. Children ran from
the hovels to polish Beetle Bomb with their shirts
and begged for coins. Inky handed them candy,
pencils, and pads she had brought along.
I was told to give them little presents, she said.
If you give money, itll be taken away from them.
Almost immediately they reached the edge of the
city and were moving down the beautiful Baja coast.
Overpopulated Tijuana seemed to lean against the
border, waiting for a chance to pop into the United
States, while the rocky beaches remained empty.
The sky was filled with gulls and pelicans, and the
waves flashed clearly as they broke against the
79

cliffs.
Look at that water! Lonny said. Its been a
long time since weve seen an ocean that clear.
Youre telling me, Wynn said. I think were
getting a lesson on the pitfalls of progress.
What a shame, Inky added. The choices seem
to be to live in a cardboard box and have a beautiful
ocean that you never have time to swim in, or to live
in plenty in a place where the sea looks like an oil
slick.
I wish there were an in-between, Lonny said
wistfully.
Lets quit philosophizing, Wynn said, and go
for a swim. He pulled Beetle Bomb to the side of
the road, and they scrambled down the hill to the
water. The shore was covered with egg-shaped rocks
worn smooth by the surf.
Ive heard about walking on eggs, Inky said.
Now I know what it means! She picked up a rock
and tossed it into the waves. Archie bounded after it,
looking perplexed when it disappeared. Using some
brush for cover, they quickly changed into their
swimsuits and plunged into the cool blue surf.
Inky swam out and the boys followed. Soon all
three were rollicking in the Pacific, with Archie
joining the fun. Half an hour later, they were on
their way again.
Wynn drove past the dock city of Ensenada and
80

went deeper into Baja, through fields of bright-red


chili peppers, until the road ended, giving way to a
dirt trail. As the sea wind freshened, it blew clouds
of dust over everything.
Suddenly Wynn felt the wheels sink into loose
sand, and up ahead he dimly saw the thin outline of
a stone railing.
He pushed hard on the brake, and at the same
time Inky cried out, Careful, Wynn! A bridge is
out!
Now he saw it, too. All that was left of the
wooden span was some rickety 3-foot-wide planking
over a deep arroyo.
Hold on! Wynn swerved down the bank onto
the rock-covered dry bed and came to a jolting stop.
They all sat quietly for a few minutes before Inky
said, Nice driving, Wynn.
Oh yes? I think Ill resign before we all get
killed.
Its not your fault, Lonny said as they got out.
The sun had nearly settled on the western horizon
by the time Beetle Bomb had been pushed, tugged,
and hauled out of the arroyo.
At least the old buggys still purring, Lonny
said. Want to drive a spell, Inky?
Okay. You read the map.
As it grew dark, Wynn said, Wed better hit the
next station for a fill-up. So far as I can tell by the
81

map, its the last public station. From now on well


have to get our gas from the ranches.
It took three days of jouncing, choking on dust,
and baking in the copper sun before they arrived at
La Paz. Their skin was bronzed, eyes bloodshot, and
hands blistered.
Oh, boy, Wynn said. Ive got lots of respect
for the race drivers who can make this trip in
twenty-four hours!
Fellows, I dont mind telling you, Inky said,
that Im ready for a little civilization. A hot bath, a
good dinner, and eight hours of sleep will do me
fine. And with a bit of luck, the truck we drive back
will be air-conditioned and I can watch you eating
dust in Beetle Bomb.
Amen, Lonny said. Lets pick up the truck,
collect our money, and find a hotel for the night.
Following Gavilans directions, the trio drove
through the dingy streets to the spot where the truck
was located. Off to the side of a sweltering plaza,
partially shaded by a stunted tree, stood a parked
vehicle.
That cant be it! Inky said. The saints help us
if it is!
They parked, put Archie on a leash, and walked
slowly to the truck. It leaned over to one side, the
springs broken and rusted. The left front tire was
almost flat and the windshield was cracked, held
82

together with adhesive tape. The drivers door was


tied shut with a rope. There was no door on the
passengers side. The trio stood there silently until
Archie began to bark at the noises coming from the
back of the truck.
Lets look at our cargo, Lonny said dejectedly.
If the animals are anything like the truck, theyre a
pretty moth-eaten lot.
He went to the back, twisted an iron latch, and
peered inside the smelly interior.
Whats in there? Inky asked. Bobcats?
Good grief, no! Lonny said. Turtles! Giant sea
turtles!

83

CHAPTER IX

Contraband Turtles

Wynn and Inky peered at the cargo of giant turtles,


while the barnacle-backed reptiles climbed atop one
another. Two had rolled over, and their pink, green,
and orange feet were waving in the air. While the
Americans watched in amazement, a man walked up
behind them. Archie barked sharply, causing them to
snap around and look at the fellow. He was tall and
gaunt, with a cadaverous face and drooping black
mustache.
Buenos dias, he said, bowing slightly. My
name is Carlos Chevez. You are the ones who have
come to deliver the turtles?
Yes sir. I guess we are, Lonny said. Are you
sure this heap can make the trip back up the Baja?
Si, si. It is very good, seor. Do not worry. The
roads in Mexico make a truck look old very soon.
He patted the battered vehicle. Good. Never break
84

down.
Lonny looked at his companions. I suppose
these roads could age anything. But I guess were
committed.
Where did the turtles come from? Inky
questioned.
Very near La Paz, there are a great abundance of
sea turtles, Chevez said. Fishermen complain they
get into the nets and cause damage.
The girl was not to be put off that easily. Sea
turtles are an endangered species, she started. Like
the whale and the pelican.
Maybe in the United States, seorita, there are
not many. But here we have more turtles than
people. The mustache rose in a patronizing smile.
I thought it was illegal to capture them, Wynn
pressed on.
Oh, no. That is not true. The police are very glad
we capture them. But we are not to eat them in soup
any more. It is allowed to take them to the zoo.
These are for Mexicali.
All right, Lonny said finally. Wheres the
cash?
As agreed earlier, Chevez gave him $350, bowed
unctuously, and recommended what he called a
good hotel.
Lonny drove the truck, and the others followed in
the buggy. The hotel faced the water and was
85

surrounded by palm trees, giving the place a


pleasant ambiance. The travelers looked out over the
bay, where sailboats floated like moths on the blue
water. Inky noted there were porpoises at play in the
wake of a ferryboat headed toward the Mexican
mainland. White gulls cried behind the boat, diving
for the flashing fish churned up by the propellers.
On the masts of the sailboats rocking at anchor sat a
flock of birds, the now rare pelican seemingly in
abundance.
Maybe old Carlos was right, Inky said. Ive
never seen so many pelicans in one place. Look at
them riding the draft of the waves!
Youll never get a hot bath, looking at birds,
Wynn said. Come on in and register.
The lobby, furnished with dark mission-style
chairs and desk, was decorated with portraits of
bemedaled Mexican patriots. Beneath the largest
picture, a general mounted on a white horse, was the
reception desk, behind which stood a pale pimplefaced youth.
After assigning the visitors two rooms on the
second floor, he gave them the keys and said,
Buenos noches.
Same to you, Wynn replied, and they climbed
the stairs.
The boys found their quarters first. Inky headed
for her room farther down the hall, but before Lonny
86

could unlock the door, she screamed in fright.


Whats happened? Wynn asked. They ran to
Inkys assistance, only to find her staring through an
open door.
I knew we werent checking into the Ritz, she
said, but I didnt expect to find my room
occupied.
Occupied? Lonny glanced around the
seemingly empty room.
Look on the floor! Inky said.
It was alive with roaches that were running under
the beds and into the chest of drawers.
Wynn chuckled. They wont bite you.
Ill have to take your word for it, Inky said
doubtfully and went inside.
Later the three met for dinner, scrubbed and
refreshed in clean jeans and shirts. Inky had pulled
her hair into a ponytail away from her sunburned
face and looked feminine, which the boys approved
in secret nods. After a good meal, shared with
Archie, they walked along the bay, then tied the dog
to Beetle Bombs steering post for sentry duty.
Yap if anybody tries to cart off the buggy,
Lonny instructed him. He patted the dogs head, and
the trio retired for the night, hoping for a good
refreshing sleep. Wynn and Lonny put their
knapsacks on the chest of drawers, hoping the
roaches wouldnt crawl inside. Both fell asleep to
87

the clicking sounds of the bugs scurrying across the


floor.
At about two oclock in the morning, Archie
suddenly began to bay. The boys sat bolt upright.
What do you think it is, Lonny?
Dont know. Lets look.
They hurried to their balcony and saw the dark
figure of a man running down the street.
Good work, Archie, Lonny called. Hang in
there, old boy. Were coming right down.
The two raced to the street and checked the car
with flashlights. Nothing seemed to have been
disturbed.
Maybe just a nosy native, Wynn suggested.
Or a burglar who got chased off by Archie.
Over breakfast the next morning, Lonny said
what everyone had been thinking. You know, Im
beginning to feel this trip is worth double what
were getting for it.
I dont like it at all, Inky said. It gives me a
funny feeling.
After they had paid their hotel bill, the threesome
started for the next gas station, where they fueled up,
changed the oil, and checked the trucks tires. Lonny
opened the hood and shook his head.
This thing looks like an explosion in a spaghetti
factory! he said, frowning at the tangle of patched
wires.
88

He worked on it for a while, exchanging parts and


checking performance. Finally he said, Thats all I
can do without replacing the whole motor. Hope itll
work.
They started out in the soft morning air. Wynn
and Inky drove the first leg in the truck, while
Lonny and the dog brought up the rear in the buggy.
But Lonnys hopes were soon shattered. After only
30 miles out, the old vehicle sputtered to a halt. All
around a desolate desert glistened. Tropical La Paz
lay far behind.
Lonny lifted the hood to look into the mechanical
nightmare that would have to transport them and the
turtles back to Mexicali. It would not stay open, and
Wynn climbed on the fender and used a sturdy
branch for a prop.
What do you think the trouble is? Inky asked.
There are probably fifteen things wrong with it.
The question is which one of them made it stop
running.
Lonny examined the wiring, searching for a break
in the electrical system. He checked until he
discovered the problem.
The coil wire, he said finally. And theres a
crack in the distributor cap. This engine looks like a
pre-World War II model. Im afraid its back to La
Paz for parts, and well be lucky to find any. Do you
mind staying here alone, Inky?
89

Not at all. Bring back an ice-cream soda.


After several hours of searching in La Paz
through all the junked cars they could find, Wynn
and Lonny gathered a collection of parts that might
repair the truck and serve as spares for the rest of the
trip. When the boys returned, they saw Inky waving
from the top of the old vehicle.
I was afraid you wouldnt see me and might go
right by. I havent spied a single soul. Just that
buzzard that keeps circling overhead. Do you think
one of the turtles is dead?
Golly, I hope not, Wynn said. He climbed
inside, crawling over the shells that sat like
boulders. The turtles had all retreated inside their
armor.
Theres some movement in all of them when I
poke, Wynn reported. In fact, I think these fellows
are better off than we are, with a shell to hide in.
You can say that again, Inky added. The top of
my head feels like a fried egg, and poor old Archie
hasnt had his tongue inside his mouth since we left
La Paz.
Lonny worked on the truck for some time, with
Wynn handing him parts over the giant fenders.
Okay, he called finally. Crank it up. I think
Ive got it.
Wynn turned over the starter and the truck
rumbled to life, blowing out a cloud of fresh smoke
90

that settled to the ground in the dry air. Soon the


caravan was on the road again, inching toward Villa
Constitucin. When they arrived at the first
settlement, made up of a few scattered mud shacks
and ranches, a Pe Mex service station appeared
ahead. Wynn stopped to get gas. But when he pulled
up to a pump, the attendant surprised them by
running down the street.
I guess wed better wait, Lonny said. This is
the last gas stop for a long way. Wonder what got
into that guy.
The man returned shortly with a tall darkishblond Mexican police officer.
Oh, oh, Inky said. More trouble.
Speaking Spanish slowly enough for the girl to
understand, the policeman ordered them to line up
beside the truck. Inky noticed that one of his eyes
had a long, horizontal pupil, like the eye of a cat.
You are under arrest, he said. Inky translated
for the boys and asked, What for?
Contraband turtles.
These are not contraband. We are delivering
them to the zoo in Mexicali.
The policeman and attendant began to laugh. A
zoo? There is no zoo in Mexicali, the officer told
them. That is an old story. You expect us to fall for
it?
No, I suppose not, Inky mumbled. You have
91

to be as dumb as we are to fall for it.


She related the conversation to the boys. The
policeman would put them in jail unless they paid a
fine. It was $350.
I wonder if thats the standing rate for driving a
load of turtles, Inky said bitterly to her partners.
There seems to be a plan afoot to keep the money
in Mexico.
To the officer she said, All right. Well pay it.
Lonny gave him the cash. Before they were
allowed to continue, the policeman searched through
their belongings, even probing around Beetle
Bombs underside. He grinned and gave a limp
salute as they drove off.
No one felt like talking. All their hard work was
lost. Im surprised he let us keep the turtles, Wynn
muttered. Inky studied the log she had prepared
carefully on the way down, listing all the bad spots.
Suddenly she asked Wynn to stop. Lonny and
Archie pulled in behind.
What now? Lonny asked anxiously.
Follow me, comrades!
The boys walked to the side of the road behind
Inky. Suddenly a grin spread over her sunburned
face.
Right here, she said. Dig a big hole for me
right here!
92

CHAPTER X

Cactus Ghosts

Wynn got his camping shovel, scraped away some


gravel on the surface, and began digging in the hardpacked sandy soil.
Lonny said, Do you expect to find gold here, or
are you going to bury a dead body?
No questions till its two-feet deep, Inky said,
and she hunkered down beside the pile of dirt. In a
while she added, Okay, Wynn, thats enough.
The boy dropped the shovel and wiped his
forehead with the back of his hand. Now what?
Lon, Inky said, get those two five-gallon cans
of water, pronto!
So thats it! Wynn grinned. Caching a supply
of water for future use. Thats using your little blond
head, Inky.
Lonny lugged the shiny tins from Beetle Bomb
and placed them side-by-side in the hole.
93

Rest in peace, the girl said impishly as Wynn


covered them over with the loose earth.
Inky marked the location on her map. It was near
an outcrop of smooth marble rock, not far from a
cluster of mud and stick shacks. The rest of the day
passed uneventfully, the truck chugging along the
rocky road. As the sun began to set, they stopped to
view the giant cardon cactus that grows only in
Baja. Inky showed them how to judge its massive
height by comparing the length of its shadow with
ones own.
After a supper of sandwiches and fruit, the weary
travelers camped in a small clearing in the middle of
some rabbit brush and cactus. The velvet-black sky
was thickly spotted with stars and a thin sliver of the
moon.
For a while they lay in their sleeping bags and
chatted. Boy, I see stars I didnt even know
existed, Wynn said. He pointed out the drinking
gourd, or Big Dipper, that slaves had used to find
their way north before the emancipation. I thought
you were close to the sky in the mountains but Ive
never seen anything like this.
A soft breeze came up, bearing the fresh salt
scent of the ocean. How close are we to the water,
Inky? Wynn asked.
Couldnt say exactly, Inky answered. The road
gets closer at some places than at others. Where the
94

peninsula is narrow, the tide comes in pretty far.


Sometimes the Baja cars have to plan their route
with the tide so as not to sink.
Lonny said, How far are we from where old
Scammon the whaler trapped his prey?
Not very. In fact, his ships were discovered from
the desert, not from the sea. His masts were sighted
from just about here.
Tomorrow, Lonny said drowsily, we should
take time off for beachcombing. Maybe well find a
treasure.
That wouldnt be hard to take, Wynn said. Im
nearly flat broke.
Ive an idea, Inky said. Lets go to the police
and deliver Seor Gavilans cargo. Maybe theyll
give us a reward.
Lonny shook his head. After thinking about it, I
dont believe those turtles are contraband. The cop
would have kept them.
You mean the policeman was not a policeman at
all? Wynn asked.
I think he was a crook who posed as a cop to
line his pockets.
Inky nodded. Im with you. As a matter of fact, I
feel like letting the whole bunch of turtles loose in
Scammons lagoon!
Now, would that be honest? Wynn asked her.
We promised to take them to Mexicali.
95

Silence finally blanketed the campers as one-byone they fell asleep. Some time later, Wynn was
wakened by a sound. Was it Lonnys gentle snoring?
The boy sat up and looked around. Then he saw
them. Six, eight, ten figures. They seemed to be
moving toward the campers. But Archie lay
strangely quiet.
Wynn roused his companions.
Lonny, Inky I Do you see what I see? Were
surrounded!
There must be a dozen of them, Lonny noted
with alarm. What could they want? We dont have
anything left but that rattletrap truck and a dozen
turtles!
And Id fight for Beetle Bomb with my life!
Wynn said. He crouched and clenched his fists.
The tension snapped like an elastic band when
Inky started to giggle. She jumped from her sleeping
bag, picked up a stick, and pitched it at the lead
figure. It hit with a thump and Archie raced off to
retrieve it. He dropped the stick beside Inky and
wagged his tail. The strangers in the dark did not
move.
Good grief! Wynn said. What are they?
Ghosts, their companion replied. Big dumb
cactus ghosts. Under the moonlight they seem to
take on the shapes of people. Back to sleep,
fellows!
96

The boys felt silly and admitted it. Inky yawned.


Forget it. Youre not the first tender-feet to be
fooled. Good night.
How long he had been sleeping Lonny did not
know. When he opened his eyes the sky had lost
some of its blackness and the stars looked dim.
Archie stirred and whined.
Maybe a pack rat woke us, Lonny thought. His
eyes scanned the desert and his mouth dropped open
in surprise.
Lights! Small lights flickered in the distance.
They appeared to be coming closer. Was this
another desert illusion? He waited a few minutes to
give his sleepy brain time to clear. The lights
approached faster, and Archie howled.
The other two awakened sharply. More ghosts?
Wynn asked.
Real ones this time, Im afraid, Lonny said.
Inky rubbed her eyes in disbelief. The sky turned
pale with the dawn, and now they could see the
ghosts. Someone carrying candles. They winked out
one at a time, and small people emerged. They were
children, seven of them, with ragged clothes, spindly
legs, and huge brown eyes. The youngsters
approached quietly, with hands held out. They
begged more shyly than the waifs at Tijuana.
Oh, those poor little dears, Inky said. They
must live in those shacks over there on the hillside.
97

A tiny girl stepped forward and smiled at Inky.


She spoke a few words very softly.
Her name is Carmelita and shes hungry, Inky
said. She spoke Spanish with the children for a
while, then turned to the boys. Rustle up all your
spare coins, fellows, while I give these little urchins
some of our food.
When the children had eaten most of the fruit and
all the sandwiches, a woman called from the
distance. Inky cupped her hands and shouted that
she should not worry. The children were no trouble.
The woman approached, smiling, and Carmelita
gave her the coins in her brown fist. The boys
listened to the women speaking. Inky knew how to
make friends! The natives said grateful good-bys
and trudged back through the cactus toward their
home.
The young racers set off in good spirits. They had
helped some poor people and looked forward to
collecting the balance of their fee from Gavilan.
Maybe hell even give us the three-hundred andfifty we got gypped out of on the way, Inky said
with a twinkle.
Dream on, fair lady, Wynn said.
Finally Mexicali loomed ahead like a blob on the
landscape. The caravan pulled through the crowded
streets, with the boys in the truck and Inky driving
the buggy. Archie nuzzled his head on her lap.
98

When they reached the restaurant, parched from the


long drive, Lonny ordered Cokes. The waiter looked
at them strangely and hurried to the telephone on the
wall beside the bar.
Five minutes later Seor Gavilan arrived in the
company of a policeman. Neither was smiling.
Theyre the ones, Gavilan said loudly, and
pointed. Theyre the ones who stole my truck!

99

CHAPTER XI

Tricked!

Lonny and Wynn looked stunned at the accusation,


while Inkys eyes flashed and her chin thrust
forward.
What do you mean stole your truck? she said
hotly. You hired us to drive to La Paz and pick up a
load of turtles!
Young lady, the policeman said, Senor
Gavilan is not in possession of the turtles. They
belong to these young men, who were driving the
stolen truck!
Thats a lie! Wynn said.
And hand over the money you owe us! Lonny
stormed.
Officer, we have heard enough, do you not
think? their accuser said with a sneer.
The policeman nodded. Come with me! he
ordered the Americans.
100

I demand to see the United States Consul,


Wynn declared.
Demand? Are you not aware that you are
addressing an officer of the law? I can put you in jail
here, and your fancy lawyers will not be able to get
you out until you are a very old man. This is not the
United States, you know!
Wynn hushed and Lonny spoke up, trying to
reason with the policeman. If we return the truck to
Seor Gavilan and plan to leave Mexico, whats the
next step? Are you saying that we are under arrest?
The officer looked at Gavilan. I suppose it is up
to this gentleman to press charges.
Gavilans face was thoughtful. Well, considering
the age of the culprits, why dont we let them off
with a warning?
You can bet well be wiser! Inky said.
Easy does it, Lonny said quietly. Lets get out
of this place first.
But the girls wrath colored her pretty face. Our
friend here has found the perfect way to cheat us out
of the whole seven hundred dollars. He has a
miserable job and finds some bright-eyed kids to do
it. Then he stations thugs along the way to make
sure they dont even get to keep their down
payment!
Thugs? Gavilan glanced at the policeman.
What do you mean by that?
101

Oh, forget it! Inky said in disgust.


Wynn pressed hard to get her off the subject. No
use to antagonize the cheat any longer. Are we free
to go now? he asked.
Yes. But you have only twenty-four hours to get
out of Mexico, the officer said.
Dont worry about that, Lonny said. Well set a
record driving to the border!
Gavilan walked with them to the buggy, where
Archie sat guard. Seeing the Mexican, the dog gave
a low rumbling growl.
Archies a good judge of character, Lonny said
under his breath.
They got in and drove off, still angered by the
injustice.
Boy, weve been royally flimflammed! Wynn
grumbled. I feel like a dummy. Thank goodness
you were along, or Id be convinced Im completely
crazy.
Cool it, Lonny said, and pay attention to your
driving. If we get a ticket now, were sunk!
At the border station, they stopped to report the
incident to the American authorities. The officer
with whom they spoke took them to a private office.
Im glad youre back safely, he said, concern in
his voice. You might have gotten into serious
trouble. Gavilan is one of the most dangerous men
in Mexico. That name, by the way, is one of several
102

aliases. He is a smuggler and a killer!


Wynn let out a low whistle.
We have no authority to control his activities,
the man went on, unless we catch him on this side
of the border.
I guess we were lucky, Lonny said.
The man smiled. You learned a lesson. Be
careful of strangers.
Thats what my mother used to tell me, Inky
said. Then she added seriously, What about those
poor turtles?
Well alert our men in Mexicali to prevent their
transport across the border.
I wish, said Inky, we had set every one of
them free in Scammons Lagoon!
When they left the station, Wynn bent over and
pulled off a boot. A little trick Bud Eubanks taught
me, he said, unfolding a twenty-dollar bill. At
least we have gas money back to Los Angeles. And
if theres no objection, Id like to stop for a
hamburger.
They found a place close by, left Archie on guard
in front of the glass door, and went into the shiny
eatery. The aroma of broiling beef made their
mouths water.
Good old U. S.! Home sweet home! Lonny
said, as they found seats in a booth.
Inky did not share his exuberance. She sat quietly
103

and let the boys order for her. When double


hamburgers with all the fixings were set before
them, the girl nibbled, while Wynn and Lonny
devoured theirs.
Come on, Inky, Wynn said. You need energy.
This is delicious.
Shes thinking about the turtles, Lonny said,
and the girl nodded. We didnt do right by them,
she said.
Inky managed to drink a glass of milk and saved
the rest of her hamburger for Archie. On the way
out, she went on ahead while the boys paid at the
cash register.
Suddenly she was running back. Wynn! Lonny!
she called. A mans under Beetle Bomb, and Archie
is howling his head off!
By the time the three got outside, the stranger was
gone.
Look, Archie has part of his clothes, Inky said,
pointing to a shred of cloth. Wynn took it from the
dogs mouth. It was a frayed khaki pocket.
Nice try, Arch, Lonny said. Now lets see
what that guy was up to.
He slid under Beetle Bomb and carefully
examined the underside. Nothing seemed to be
amiss.
Another mystery, Wynn said. Whats so
interesting about the bottom of our car?
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It was evening when they arrived at Crawfords


house. He saw them coming up the driveway and
called to his housekeeper to prepare a hot supper.
During the meal the young people told him about
their adventure, much to Teddys delight, who kept
looking at Inky admiringly. When he heard about
the water cache theyd stored for the race, the boy
said, Youre pretty smart!
And she speaks Spanish, too, Wynn added.
After dessert Crawford said, You all had a
narrow escape, and it poses a future problem when
you race in the Mexicali 1000. Just dont run into
that scoundrel Gavilan again. Hes a mean one, and
might give you more trouble.
Well keep our eyes open, Inky promised.
Since it was late, Crawford invited her to spend
the night in his guest room. She accepted.
When the boys left for work the next morning,
she said, See you all at the Baja. Im going to be
awfully busy on my car till then!
She drove off as the mailman brought a specialdelivery letter addressed to Wynn. It was from Bud
Eubanks and contained ad clippings from five
weekly Carolina newspapers. The wording in each
was identical. Rosario Longo had room for a few
more students in his famous racing school. Checks
or money orders were to be sent to a Los Angeles
substation Post Office box, and applicants should
105

arrive in two weeks.


Good old Bud! Wynn said. He sure was on the
ball. No doubt Jacques Breve and Rosario Longo are
the same manJayson!
Lonny nodded. These ads appeared only three
days ago. We have a chance to catch Jayson redhanded!
Or Hooks, Wynn replied.
The boys showed the clippings to Crawford, who
sent them to police headquarters immediately.
Nice work, a detective lieutenant said. Well
stake out the Post Office and let you know what
happens.
Two days went by without word from the police.
At noon on the third day, a detective phoned
Crawfords garage and asked for the boys. Wynn
took the call.
We nailed the guy who picked up the mail, the
officer said. He claims his name is Henry Miller. If
hes the fraud, can you identify him?
Sure can.
Then come on down. Well put him in a lineup.
On the way Wynn and Lonny wondered whether
the prisoner was Jayson or Hooks Conway. I hope
Hooks didnt fall for that lousy deal, Lonny said.
At headquarters the boys were ushered into a
room by the lieutenant. The lights were dimmed and
106

five men were led onto a dais, where a strong beam


illuminated them sharply. Was one of them the
culprit?
Be careful, the detective warned. No snap
judgment. Study them thoroughly.
The boys scrutinized each face. Hooks was not
there. One of the men had Jaysons build, but he
wore a mustache and had no streak in his hair.
Well? the officer asked after a while.
I think thats him, second from the left, Wynn
said. Hes grown a mustache and dyed his hair.
Right, Lonny agreed.
Okay, the detective said. Well take it from
here. Thank you.
In his office, he told the boys that the mail had
contained two money orders and a check from boys
in North Carolina. They would be held as evidence
and returned later to the victims, along with
explanatory letters.
What about our dough? Lonny asked.
If Jaysons convicted and has any assets, youll
get it back. With a smile the detective added, The
other four guys in the line-up were two
plainclothesmen, the custodian of this building, and
a news reporter.
Wynn chuckled. Im glad we didnt pick one of
them!
Next day Lonny decided to stay in the shop,
107

beefing up Beetle Bomb in spots where he thought


the body could stand more rigidity. He had noticed
hairline cracks forming in the fiberglass, and many
welds had been weakened by their trip to La Paz.
Wynn, meanwhile, was to meet Crawford at the
Willow Springs race track to clock one of the sports
cars his boss was testing. He drove alone in
Crawfords station wagon. The day was very sunny,
and the glare from the sandy expanse beside the road
forced him to pull down the visor and put on
sunglasses. He mused about the assignment as the
miles flew by.
Near the desert, he sighted a large group of
cyclists in his rearview mirror. Their images swirled
as the heat rose over the pavement, reminding Wynn
of a herd of tops spinning toward him. He had read
of outlaw cycle gangs that rode throughout
California and was warned by men at the shop to
steer clear of them. They usually rode large Harley
cycles and wore no helmets. Soon Wynn could see
the approaching group more clearly. They were
helmeted, and now he recognized the distinct sound
of two-cycle Japanese bikes.
They dont seem to be the bad kind, he thought
with relief.
As the pack moved around him on a straight
stretch, Wynn realized that some of the boys had
girls riding the buddy seats. At the edge of the pack
108

was a small girl riding a gold Kawasaki 175, her


high leather boots planted solidly on the pegs. She
wore a denim jacket, padded leather pants, and a
black helmet. On the back of it was an emblem, the
white dogwoodthe state flower of North Carolina!
Her hair, spread across the back of the blue
jacket, was bright red. The same as Bud Eubankss.
Wynns pulse quickened. Could this be Nancy-Rae?

109

CHAPTER XII

The Dogwood Helmet

Wynn floored the gas pedal, trying desperately to


close the gap between himself and the girl on the
golden bike. Suddenly he heard a siren. A highwaypatrol car whizzed past him and the officer inside
pointed a finger, indicating that Wynn should pull
over.
He and the whole motorcycle group were brought
to a halt at the roadside. Just then the red-headed girl
turned sideways into a ditch and gunned her engine.
The bike fishtailed in the sand before taking off like
a streak.
The patrolman watched helplessly as the rider
vanished in the distance, leaving only a trail of dust.
Okay, he said, stepping out of his car and
addressing the group. Lets have some explanation
of the speeds you were turning. I clocked you at ten
miles over the limit back there!
110

One of the boys spoke up. We didnt mean to


speed, sir.
We were heading out to the park for some trail
riding, another added. Must have gotten a little
eager.
And whats your excuse? The policeman
looked at Wynn.
You probably wont believe this, the boy said,
and he swallowed hard. I was trying to catch up
with the bike riders because one of them might be a
girl I know.
Thats a pretty poor excuse for speeding. The
officer pulled a packet of summonses from his
pocket.
But, sir, Wynn said, shes not an ordinary girl.
She just proved it by that little excursion off into the
desert.
That was a girl?
The cyclists nodded, and Wynn went on, Ive
been trying to locate her for her father back in North
Carolina, where I come from.
The policeman shook his head. Well, I wish you
luck. Californias full of runaways. A lot of them
end up in the morgue with Jane Doe tags. And if that
one keeps riding that way, she might be next!
He turned to the riders, while putting the tickets
back in his pocket. Im giving you fair warning.
Save your stunts for the woods and keep it down on
111

the public roads.


Yes, sir, the boys murmured.
And something else. The police are always
suspicious of large packs of bikes because of past
experience with gangs. Whenever you ride in a
group, remember that youre being watched even
closer. And tell that lone wolf who got away she
could have been locked up for resisting arrest!
When the officer left, one of the boys turned to
Wynn. I think we owe you some thanks. Your story
sweetened him up.
Wynn laughed. I thought I was in hot water with
you. How about stopping up the road for a soda? I
want to ask you a few questions about the hotshot
with the dogwood on her helmet.
You mean the Carolina kid?
Thats the one.
After parking their machines under a tree beside a
refreshment stand, the cyclists told Wynn about the
girl. She lived somewhere on the desert, they said,
and nobody knew her name.
She wouldnt even tell me, one girl reported.
And Im her best friend. But you talk just like you
could be her brother. I never heard such a drawl as
C.K.s.
She may talk slow, but she can really turn it on
with that bike, one boy said admiringly. C.K.s
going to enter the Baja, and we think shes got a
112

good chance if the bike holds out.


The others agreed. She can last longer than most
guys, her girl friend said. And that limp doesnt
seem to bother her at all
Limp? Wynn asked.
Yes. She got it in a pile-up when she was still in
diapers.
That clinched it, Wynn thought. No doubt about it
now. The Kawasaki daredevil was Nancy-Rae I
Aloud he said, Shes the girl Im looking for, all
right. Next time you see her, tell the whiz to write
her dad. Hes really worried. And ask her to get in
touch with me, too.
He jotted down his name, address, and phone
number and left.
After four hours of running a stopwatch while
they tested the sports car, Wynn went to the Western
Union office and sent a telegram to Bud Eubanks.
NANCY-RAE OKAY. RIDING CYCLE IN MEXICALI
1000. MORE LATER. WYNN.

He checked at the shop on the way to Crawfords


and found Lonny still hard at work on Beetle Bomb.
He had the buggy almost completely disassembled.
Hi, old buddy, Wynn blurted out. I found
Nancy-Rae!
Lonny dropped his wrench and slid out from
113

under the car. Where?


Hightailing it across the desert to get away from
a policeman. And get this, shes riding a bike in the
Baja. Sent Bud a telegram and told him.
The Baja? On a motorcycle? I hope shes rugged
enough!
Dont worry. You should have seen her go!
Well, maybe now well catch her.
I dont know, Lon. Shes awfully elusive. He
stared at the car. Hey, whats the idea? Are you
putting Beetle Bomb back into a kit?
Lonny gave a mad scientist laugh, and in a
German accent said, I am going to create a
monster! When I am finished, it will be
indestructible. You can drive it off a cliffover
boulders
The boys finished working on Beetle Bomb
several days later. The cars stability had improved
after Lonnys rebuilding, and he had coaxed even a
little more speed from the highly tuned engine. As
for the entrance fee, the North Carolinians pooled
their earnings, and Crawford gave them an advance
on their salaries to make up the rest. Further
excitement was added when a letter to Nancy-Rae
arrived in care of Wynn. It was from Bud, who had
written URGENT on the back flap.
After an enthusiastic send-off from Crawford,
Teddy, and the men at the garage, Wynn and Lonny
114

set off. Archie, who would stay with Teddy, barked


and the others waved. Soon they were on their way
south through El Centro and across the border into
Mexico. At Mexicali they drove the car to the
impound station for inspection. According to the
rules, it had to be left in a locked area until it was
time to leave for the start line the next day.
Ill feel sort of lonesome tonight without old
Beetle Bomb, Lonny said. But I guess were going
to see plenty of each other in the next few days.
There are enough buggies to keep him
company, Wynn added.
Speaking of buggies, Lonny said, why dont
we see if we can find Inkyand Nancy-Rae. Inky
said that she was going to paint the Sandmaster
chartreuse. A car that color shouldnt be too hard to
spot.
They walked into the mass of waiting race cars
that were being carefully inspected. Hoods were
open, and men with clipboards checked off each
safety item on the list and also made a surface
examination for possible illegalities.
As Lonny had predicted, it wasnt hard to spot
Inkys car, which she had named Froggy. She stood
beside it, already dressed in khakis for the trip, with
high-topped sneakers and a tiny shoulder bag for her
belongings. There was no room in the single seater
for nonessentials. She had braided her hair and
115

carried a chartreuse helmet in one hand.


Wow! Are you stylish! Wynn said, as they
hurried up to her.
A woman has to look the part, Inky teased.
Hows old Beetle Bomb?
Just panting to go, Lonny said. Listen, have
you seen Nancy-Rae? Wynns got an important
letter for her.
Shes here, Inky said. I saw her tinkering with
her bike. She didnt act too friendly, but my guess is
that shes having some last-minute mechanical
trouble.
After Inkys car was impounded, all three
searched for Nancy-Rae, but with no luck.
She may have taken her machine to some garage
to have it fixed, Inky conjectured.
Well have to get her in the morning, Wynn
said. Where are you staying tonight?
At the new motor lodge.
So are we. How about supper together?
Best offer Ive had all day.
During the meal, Inky brought up the cache of
water by the roadside. Theres a can for each of us
if the emergency should arise, she said.
Remember the location?
Its marked on our map, Lonny said. Were all
set with food and drink. Are you stocked up?
I wont need much to eat, Inky said with a
116

smile. Ill be too nervous.


Now theres a joke! Lonny said.
The cars and bikes started moving up to the
starting line early the next morning. The Mexican
crowd began to close in on the machines, and
children ran up to touch the cars and wish the racers
luck. As the onlookers pressed against the daredevil
drivers, Wynn and Lonny heard a familiar voice
above the babble.
Hey! Over here! came Inkys voice. I found
Nancy-Rae!
Where is she? Wynn asked.
Over by the parking lot. She hasnt moved her
cycle up to the line, because shes taken the engine
apart.
You stay here, Lon, Wynn said. Ill find her
and deliver Buds letter.
He and Inky fought their way through the crowd,
past the row of cars that glistened like tropical
melons against the white dust of Mexicali. The
helmeted drivers were poised to go, waiting for the
first entrant, Parnelli Jones, to depart in thirty
minutes at ten. From then on, cars would leave at
fifteen-minute intervals.
See! There she is, Inky said, pointing.
Wynn saw the red ponytail. He noticed that her
helmet was on the ground beside her, the dogwood
flower smudged with grease from the disassembled
117

engine.
Hi, Nancy-Rae, Wynn called out.
The girl looked up and dropped her tools in
surprise. She wore leathers and knee-high racing
boots. Tucked in her belt was a spare set of heavyduty gloves. Tight goggles and a loosely tied
bandanna around her neck completed her costume.
I heard you were looking for me, Nancy-Rae
said. I wont go back! The small pert face was set
in a frown. Now this rotten luck. Im going to miss
the race!
Whats wrong?
My bikes messed up. She switched from one
anxiety to another. Is Dad coming after me?
You know your father better than that, Wynn
said. He sent you this letter.
The girl took the envelope and limped off to find
a private spot. When she returned, she looked like a
different person. The frown lines had disappeared
from her forehead, and her mouth was turned up at
the corners in a happy smile.
Am I lucky, she said, to have such a nice
father! He sent me a check and wished me luck in
the race!
Thats Bud, Wynn said. Hes always been
generous.
Maybe I can buy a new bike, Nancy-Rae said
excitedly, and ride the Baja after all. See you later,
118

Wynn, and thanks for finding me, you all! She


walked off with a big grin, and the young racers
returned to their cars.
In less than an hour the boys saw Nancy-Rae
rolling up a new bike. She had bought a spare cycle
from one of the other riders.
Look what Ive got! she called.
Thats a real beauty! Lonny said. A
Rickman!
The guy who sold it to me figured a girl
wouldnt give him much of a run, anyway, and told
me not to bend it up on the starting ramp. Well, Ill
show him!
Youre not driving the whole thousand miles
yourself, are you? Wynn asked.
You cant on a bike. At San Ignacio, my co-rider
takes over. Shes terrific. And Ill be taken to La Paz
by helicopter.
With a little time to spare before the start, Lonny
helped her set the bike up with a final tuning. People
gathered around, watching the mechanical
preparations with wonder.
Nancy-Rae revved the engine and Lonny said,
Thats a terrific sound, isnt it?
He lowered the handlebars to fit the girls reach.
Shift your weight back on the seat a second, he
commanded. I want to get the chain fixed. The
fellow you bought this from must have been twice as
119

heavy, which should give you an edge. The whole


things set up too stiff
All at once Inky ran up to them, panting. Wynn!
Lonny! Some dudes trying to get the gas cap off
Beetle Bomb!

120

CHAPTER XIII

Down the Ramp!

Lonny jumped through the crowd, jostling aside the


onlookers surrounding Beetle Bomb. He grabbed the
shirt of a teen-aged Mexican and yanked him back.
The buggys gas cap rolled to the ground and Wynn,
close on Lonnys heels, snatched it up.
What are you doing? Lonny demanded. He
shook the terrified youth violently, and two small
packets of sugar fell from his shirt.
Sugar! You miserable wretch! Do you know
what a mess that could make of our engine?
Of course he knows, Wynn said. He glared at
the boy. Who do you work for?
The Mexican did not answer, and the curious
crowd pressed even more tightly against the car. In a
minute or two, a policeman arrived and asked what
the trouble was all about.
We just caught this character trying to put sugar
121

in our gas tank! Lonny exclaimed hotly.


The policeman made no move toward the youth,
who was still struggling in Lonnys grip.
Well, arent you going to arrest him?
Do not get excited, the officer said. People are
always keyed up before this race. It is possible the
boy was only trying to get a close look at your car.
Lonny felt as if he would burst with exasperation,
but he knew anger would do them no good.
Your line is going now, the policeman said.
Do you want to lose your place?
A driver broke through the mob and told Wynn
the buggy would have to be pushed ahead or moved
to one side. Lonny rolled it forward. The policeman
turned around and led the young Mexican away. As
they guided Beetle Bomb through the mass of
people, Wynn and Lonny looked about for NancyRae. But the girl and her cycle had vanished.
I guess wed better get on with the race, Wynn
grumbled. No time to press charges against that
guy.
Wouldnt do any good anyway, Lonny added.
As the car approached the starting ramp, small
children were hoisted to their parents shoulders for
a better view. Beetle Bomb, its once-shiny paint
smudged with fingerprints, inched ahead. A grinning
boy moved beside the car and polished the last
specks of dust from the headlights.
122

Thank you. Muchos gracias, Wynn said, and


the boy jumped up and down with glee. You give
us good luck!
Wynn started the engine, and the buggy climbed
to the top of the starting ramp. The chief starter, a
gray-haired, bearded man, moved over to talk to the
boys, explaining the rules and wishing them luck.
The traffic would be heavy both ways, he said,
until the first checkpoint at El Crucero. The racers
should be careful to avoid hitting curious spectators
on the road, as well as farmers hauling produce to
the Mexicali markets. After El Crucero, they would
make a sharp right inland and proceed over the
farmlands and hills to checkpoint number two at
Camalu.
Wynn and Lonny tightened their seat belts and
instinctively reached for their helmet straps for a
final check. Waiting for the fifteen-minute
countdown between them and the car ahead, they
tied their scarves loosely at their throats, where they
would be ready to use when the paved road turned to
dust. Goggles were pulled down to protect their eyes
from insects and dirt, and Wynn put on driving
gloves while Lonny opened the map in his lap.
The racers waited intently. A short distance down
the road, they must turn off the pavement and start
the first long stretch across the mountains that divide
the Baja. On this section, which would lead to
123

pavement again at Camalu, over 30 percent of the


entrants would be eliminated because of
breakdowns.
The starting signal was given. Their pulses
throbbed, and the buggy dived down the ramp into
the race. It roared through the tunnel of humanity
and out into the open country.
Just south of Mexicali they began to pass cars
with mechanical failure. It seemed only a short time
before they were waved into the first checkpoint,
their number recorded by a girl holding a clipboard.
Beetle Bomb was refueled and was on its way again.
Then they turned sharply west toward the hill
country. Lonny warned Wynn to be cautious this
early in the race and avoid damaging the car. Windblown dust was thick even on the paved section,
making it very difficult to see the cars and
motorcycles ahead.
Look out, Wynn! Lonny screamed.
Wynn spotted the flashing brake lights of a jeep
that had slowed to ford a small stream at the bottom
of a hill. The boy swerved. The buggy splashed into
the water and across jagged rocks that had been torn
loose by a previous flood. Then there was an
ominous POP!
Oh, no! Wynn groaned.
Oh, yes, Lonny said. There goes a spare, and
we just started!
124

They climbed out and hastily began to change the


tire. Using rocks, Lonny blocked the wheels to keep
them from rolling, and they raised Beetle Bomb with
the noisy stream running between the wheels. Lonny
dropped down to his knees in the water to lift off the
tire.
Minutes later he let the jack down. Wynn tossed
the punctured tire aboard. Then they secured the tire
and tools and Wynn started the engine. Soon they
left the farmlands and moved over the pavement that
ran along the coast to the second checkpoint at
Camalu. While Beetle Bomb was being inspected, a
boy approached them with a jug of Gaterade.
This is from Teddy, he said. Hes a friend of
mine. Told me to be sure you got this.
Thanks, Wynn said. He and Lonny took long
swigs, gave the boy their flat tire, and asked if he
could have it repaired and delivered to the impound
area in La Paz.
The pavement soon ended, and they plunged into
empty country. The sun was sinking behind the
yellow hills, turning them a deep red in the dull
light. At the roadside they noticed more graves than
people in the sparsely populated area. Two mud
shacks made up a town. Once they had passed El
Rosario, smoke coming from the tops of roofless
kitchens told them the Mexicans were preparing
dinner.
125

Are you thinking what Im thinking? Wynn


called through his kerchief.
You bet. Whats your pleasure, beef jerky or
Vienna sausage?
Whichever is closest.
Lonny unbuckled his belt and leaned over the
seat. Dont do anything fancy for a few minutes or
Ill be the first Baja participant to go through the
windshield rear first.
Lonny put his hand in the box of packages in the
back seat. Something was wrong! The bungee cords
holding the flaps down had been undone. The
containers were empty!
Wynn! Somebodys stolen our food!
Wynn groaned over the sound of the engine.
That must have happened in all the commotion.
Wow! My stomach is growling!
Lonny poured him a cup of water from a
container that had been pushed underneath the seat.
It splashed down the front of Wynns jacket as he
tried to drink while driving over the bumpy road.
At the next checkpoint, Rancho Santa Ynez, they
were unable to get food and they decided to see if
they could find something at one of the little shacks.
At each place they ran into the same problem. Either
people could not understand them or they ran away
at the sight of the buggy.
Finally they spoke to an old man who appeared to
126

be cutting some sort of melon. A closer look


revealed that it was cactus, which he offered them
with a snaggle-toothed smile.
Might as well try it, Wynn, Lonny said. Ive
heard of these cactuses. A lot of them are edible.
Looks like a watermelon, anyway. Just use your
imagination.
He ate the cactus hungrily. It was bright red and
dotted with small black seeds. The juice dropped on
his hands and stained his fingers red.
I think Ill pass it up, Lonny. Maybe we can get
something at the next checkpoint. You dont know
what you might be eating.
Sure tastes good. Lonny thanked the old man,
who nodded his headstill smilingand they set
off again.
Thus far no one in their class had passed them,
and even with the time lost for the flat tire, they had
a good average speed. At the checkpoint at Punta
Prieta, they saw Nancy-Rae on her motorcycle. She
roared in behind them for a quick service check and
moved on her way, waving happily.
The Mag-7 crew, a group that serviced the cars at
the checkpoints, gave Wynn and Lonny a sandwich
and apple before they headed back into the race.
Wynn looked over at Lonny as he munched. To his
surprise, his friend was not eating.
Hey, whats the matter? This is the best
127

sandwich I ever tasted!


I think Ill hold mine. Dont feel so good.
The cactus! Wynn thought apprehensively. Had
Lonny been poisoned? If so, the old man no doubt
was in league with their enemies!
Lonny grew pale as they headed into the rough
country to checkpoint six at El Arco. Soon he
became so ill he could not read the map. Wynn
offered to turn back to Punta Prieta for help at a
paramedic station, but Lonny refused. Keep
going! he commanded weakly.
But weve got to do something for you! Wynn
said in despair.
He had great difficulty following the road in the
darkness. His memory of the prerun was dim, and he
stopped to read the map with his flashlight.
How you doing, buddy? he asked.
Lonny did not reply. Wynn shined the light in his
face. His eyes were closed and his mouth twisted in
a grimace. He was breathing heavily.
Lonny! Wynn shook the limp body. Ill have
to find help! he thought frantically. Lonny might
be dying!
He drove slower in search of a house that might
offer assistance, but no one lived in that waste.
Suddenly his headlights caught a form some
distance from the road. It was running, with arms
waving. Wynn lifted his dusty goggles. A shoulder
128

bag swinging, the figure moved closer, stumbling


over the rocks in the darkness. It was a girl. Then he
recognized her. Inky!

129

CHAPTER XIV

Desert Rescue

Wynn stopped the buggy beside the frantic girl.


Am I glad to see you! Inky blurted. You wont
believe whats happened to me! She climbed into
the buggy beside Lonny and shoved his shoulder.
Hey, wake up! Some naviga
Hes real sick, Inky. I think it was some cactus
he ate.
Cactus? Why did he eat that?
Wynn told her the story, and Inky took a closer
look at the comatose boy.
She took the map from his lap. Ill try to figure
out where we are, she said, and navigate us out of
here. Inky reasoned they had to find help before the
natives blew out their candles and went to bed. She
wriggled into Archies spot beside the gas tank and
read the map by flashlight, while Wynn moved on at
reduced speed.
130

What happened to your car? he asked.


It was a zany experience, she replied. I got off
the main road by mistake when darkness fell, and
the Sandmaster dumped down the side of a ravine.
Were you hurt?
No, thank goodness. But poor Froggy got
hopelessly stuck in the mud at the bottom of the
gully. I went looking for help, and finally located the
main road by following the sounds of the other
racers.
Did anybody stop?
No. Two cars passed me, the rats! I suppose they
thought Id try to hijack them. Inky said she had
decided to return to her Sandmaster for a drink of
water, but could not find it.
Imagine, losing your car! she said. So I tried
to hitch a ride to the next checkpoint. Then you
came along.
What a story! Wynn said. You could sell it to
Autoweek.
Inky soon figured out where they were. No
settlements were shown on the map, and Wynn
increased his speed until they came to a smoother
section of road.
Oh, look! Inky said. Theres a fire up ahead.
Wynn pulled the buggy to a stop by a raging
bonfire surrounded by young Mexicans, who greeted
them with enthusiasm. They said they had built a
131

series of fires to guide the racers around a wash


caused by recent floods, and had chosen to stay up
all night to help the cars pass safely. Inky jumped
from the buggy and spoke Spanish with them.
Si, si, one of the youths replied, and he
beckoned her to follow him.
Be right back, she told Wynn. Well get help.
Wynn watched with some apprehension as Inky
disappeared into the night. But the girl showed no
fear. Her eyes became accustomed to the darkness
and she saw that they were following a path leading
to some mud-and-stick shacks.
Stopping before one of the shanties, the young
man called out, and a woman appeared with a
candle. As its light flickered over Inkys face, she
cried out in delight. You have come back to visit
Carmelita?
Oh, for goodness sake! Inky said. Youre her
mother! No, I didnt come to visit, because were in
the middle of a race. But Im glad I found you. I
need your help!
Inky explained what had happened to Lonny, and
the woman went back into the shack. She returned
with a small cup of fluid and walked Inky to the fire,
talking all the while.
At the bonfire, Inky said to Wynn, Remember
Carmelitas mother? She knows about the cactus
that Lonny ate. It looks like an edible kind that the
132

kids like. But its poisonous. Shes very ashamed


that one of her countrymen did such a terrible
thing.
Whats in the cup?
An antidote.
Wynn held up Lonnys head as the woman
poured the thick liquid down his throat. He
swallowed with an ugh, and Carmelitas mother
smiled and spoke to Inky.
Shes sure hell recover, Inky translated.
Dont worry if it takes a while.
In the background, the young men cheered each
time a racer passed their bonfires and sped safely on
its way. Then the woman poured the remainder of
the antidote into a small bottle that Inky held, urging
her to make him drink all of it before dawn.
Wynn offered the woman a few bills, but she
steadfastly refused the money. The racers gave their
heartfelt thanks, and Wynn drove carefully back
onto the dark road around the washout, with firelight
flickering in his rearview mirror.
Lets pool our resources, Inky suggested. Ill
navigate while we try to get out of this mess
together. We can find my car later. I told the woman
Id give her children a reward if they discovered it
and brought it to their house. It cant be too far from
here.
Wynn nodded and picked up speed. The road
133

grew rougher as they drove deeper into the Baja


territory. Beetle Bombs quartz-iodine driving lights
reached far, revealing shadowy boulders that Wynn
had to dodge continually.
Youre sure this is the right way? he asked
Inky.
Yes. It shows here that the going will be very
rough for a while, but soon well be on the smooth
surface of a muddy dry lakebed. Oh-oh!
I heard it, too, Wynn said. The engine missed.
Maybe a wire has been jarred loose.
They listened carefully to the sound of the motor
mixed with the crunch of rocks underneath the
wheels and the ping of loose pebbles hitting the
undersides of the fenders. As the engine miss began
to occur more frequently, Lonny stirred.
I think hes coming out of it, Wynn said. He
must be getting distress signals from Beetle Bomb.
Now the engine ran even rougher, the forward
speed slowing and the power dying on hills. Wynn
decided that conditions would not improve, and they
would have to repair the car before it stopped
completely. He pulled over to the side and they both
jumped out, Wynn holding a flashlight. Much to
their surprise, Lonny climbed shakily from the
buggy. Inky steadied him as he bent over to undo the
latch on the cover. He moaned and hesitated.
Dont push yourself too hard yet, Lonny, Wynn
134

warned. You be the foreman on this job and tell me


what to do.
Lonny directed Wynn to the distributor, and he
discovered the troublethe points. With Inky
holding the light and Lonny leaning against her,
Wynn replaced them in about twenty minutes.
Back in the drivers seat, Wynn felt the first signs
of real fatigue in his legs, and when he turned the
next curve, he realized that his reflexes were dulling.
To be safe, he moderated the speed. Each time the
wheels hit a rock, the shock would travel through his
arms like a knife point. Lonny was still in no
condition to take over.
Inky, Ive just about had it, Wynn finally
confided.
She wanted to help, but that would result in
almost certain disqualification, since the boys were
the legal entrants.
Hang in there, she encouraged. You can do it.
Soon they came to a sandy part of the course.
Inky noted that this area could be under water if the
tide were at a certain level, and told Wynn that she
had been warned by a Mexican that recent rains had
turned some of the dry lakes into pools of mud.
Illuminated by their beams, the earth glistened in the
darkness. Inky pointed out ominous squares of mud,
indicating that standing water had recently been
absorbed, causing the soil to crack in the sun.
135

Wynn struggled to steer around the worst spots,


but the mud stuck under the fenders. Beetle Bomb
strained to turn its wheels. Now the brakes were
filling with thick goo!
The map says to go through here, Inky said,
but I think we should try for the high ground.
No sooner had she spoken than the wheels spun
and the car slowed. The tires kicked up mud that
splattered against the back of the buggy, indicating
that they were getting nowhere.
Lonny stirred again and looked around. Cool it,
Wynn. I smell the clutch burning. Were stuck in a
big way.
They all climbed out, sinking ankle-deep into the
mire, and unpacked the sand ramps, two metal strips
that Crawford had urged them to take. While the
boys shoved them under the rear wheels, Inky
shined the light out ahead, looking for higher
ground. Then she sat behind the wheel to guide the
car along the ramps 2 feet at a time, as the boys
continued to replace the strips again and again.
Lonny seemed to be regaining his strength, while
Wynn, by his own admission, was getting woozy.
They labored for more than an hour, listening
occasionally for the sound and lights of other cars
that might have discovered a safer route. If they
heard wheels spinning, they made note to avoid that
direction. Periodically Beetle Bombs engine was
136

shut off to let it cool, while the trio rested from the
seemingly impossible task of finding solid ground.
Listen, fellows, Inky said. Lets walk on ahead
and see where were going. It may be into more of
this soup.
So much time had already been lost, she pointed
out, that it would be hard to finish high up in the
class unless their competition had made the same
mistake.
All right. Well try it, Lonny said.
They went in the direction she suggested. Their
jeans, heavily caked with mud, were now drying in
the desert air.
Hey, stop! Inky held up her hand.
What is it? Wynn asked in a weak voice. More
cactus people?
Somebodys calling. Listen!
The three stood, and from far off heard, Ho-la!
Ho-la!
I guess were not the only ones lost, Lonny
said. He cupped his hands and bellowed, Hello!
Over this way. We need help!
Wynn was too weak to continue, and Inky took
up the cry.
I wonder who it is, Lonny said. Maybe theyre
stuck like us.
There was no further response to their calls, and a
few tense minutes dragged by. Finally half-a-dozen
137

figures became dimly visible.


I hope theyre not wild Indians, Inky
whispered. Theyre still around, you know. Roam
naked from waterhole to waterhole.
Wynn wondered if fatigue had finally gotten to
Inky, and tried to make a joke. Dont they even
wear sombreros?
Nothing.
Well, the person in front has a sombrero,
Lonny said.
The Mexicans came close, and in the oblique
light beam of Inkys flashlight they stopped and
looked at the racers. The ragged, shoeless group
included four men and two women. Inky spoke to
them quietly, and the man with the sombrero replied
in Spanish.
What did he say? Lonny asked.
They heard our spinning wheels and came out to
help!

138

CHAPTER XV

Copter Attack

What luck! Lonny said. These are really kind


people!
Inky said, Many of the natives talk about the
Mexicali 1000 from one year to the next. They feel
that having a hand in the race is a great honor.
She spoke to the men in Spanish, making motions
with her hands. The Mexican smiled and nodded.
I told them what happened to us, she said.
Theyll be glad to get us out of the mudhole, even
if they have to pick up the buggy and carry it!
The group trudged back toward the spot where
they had left Beetle Bomb, with Inky chatting on the
way.
I knew we should have paid more attention in
Spanish class, Lonny said. That Espaol textbook
might have done me more good than the automotive
magazine I kept hidden in it!
139

When the car was sighted, the Mexicans stopped


to talk among themselves. They examined the onceyellow Beetle Bomb from all sides, pointed to the
hubs buried in mud, and argued on how to get it out.
Wynn grew impatient. Why dont they do
something? he whispered fretfully.
Inky calmed him, explaining that this was the
Mexican way. They must not be rushed.
After a while the natives swarmed around the car
and bent their backs to the task. With a great sucking
sound, it began to move forward. They slogged
along slowly and steadily, the mud up to their knees,
until they found higher ground. Finally the buggy sat
triumphantly on dry terrain, mud and water dripping
from its underside, while thanks and congratulations
were showered on the grinning natives.
Lonny strapped the sand ramps back in place, in
case they should run into more trouble ahead. One
of the men assured Inky that they were through the
worst of it. The area ahead, he said, had not had rain
for more than a year. This was the strangeness of the
Bajaone part had suffered a flood, and only a few
miles away there was drought. The racers thanked
their friends once more and headed into the night.
Lonny was still feeling ill, but he offered to take
over for a while so Wynn could get some rest.
Thanks, buddy, Wynn said. I sure need it.
I can see much better now, Lonny said. The
140

stars look like lamps instead of blurred loops of


fire.
Inky passed out Vienna sausages and crackers to
her hungry companions. As soon as he had eaten,
Wynn fell asleep in the seat beside the gas tank.
Fatigue dulled their spirits until they stopped
briefly at checkpoint San Ignacio. There the flurry of
excitement roused them as the workers cheered their
approach and took flash pictures.
What a reception! Lonny said. I feel like were
important people!
You are! replied a safety inspector. Youre all
important to us.
More men were available to service the car than
before, because Beetle Bomb was the only vehicle at
the checkpoint except for a solitary motorcycle. Inky
collected food from the generous mechanics, and
hoped it would last until they reached La Paz. Wynn
asked about Nancy-Rae. Had anyone seen the girl
with the dogwood on her helmet?
You bet we have, replied a mechanic. That
spunky little cricket arrived here fine. Her cycle was
running strong, and she was relieved by her co-rider.
Shes asleep in the bunkhouse and plans to fly to La
Paz at daybreak to meet her partner.
Wow! Wynn said admiringly.
Theyre the only girls left in the race, the man
added.
141

Wynn was wide awake by now. He glanced at


Lonny, who looked pale and had trouble keeping his
eyes open.
Youd better rest, Wynn told him.
Lonny nodded. I feel a bit lightheaded. He
moved into the back while Wynn slid behind the
wheel.
Inky marveled at the expertise of the Mag 7 crew,
who gave the car a thorough going-over. Some
examined the engine to see if any of the electrical
connections had been shaken loose. Others checked
the lug nuts for tightness and made a quick survey of
the wheel bearings and suspension parts. Even the
muddy light covers were scrubbed, and the
windshield was washed inside and out.
Okay, one of the mechanics said finally.
Youre all set!
Hours went by. When the morning light grew
brighter, Wynn cut off the driving lights and pulled
into La Purisima. From there they moved toward
Villa Constitucin, the last checkpoint before La
Paz. They noticed one airplane after another flying
over them.
Lonny said, I wonder if Mr. Crawford and
Teddy are in one of those on their way to La Paz to
meet us for a victory celebration.
Inky mumbled something about counting ones
chickens. Thirty miles farther on they heard the
142

clapping sound of a helicopter blade, and Lonny and


Inky squinted up into the sun. The copter appeared
to be following Beetle Bomb, flying low over the
dirt road. Three men were in it.
I guess theyre filming us for television news,
Wynn said.
As long as they dont fan up so much dust that
we cant see the road, Inky said cautiously.
She shielded her goggled eyes and studied the
chopper. I dont see any cameras, she declared.
Maybe its someone we know but dont recognize.
The copter flew lower, and Inky rubbed her
glasses while Lonny worked to get the dust off the
inside of the windshield so Wynn could see the road
ahead. Wynn slowed down, trying to find his way in
the dust, but soon he couldnt see anything. Seconds
later there was a loud crunch and the buggy spun to
a halt, a heavy grinding under the front end. The
boys pressed hard against their seatbelts, and Inky
bumped against the back of Lonnys seat.
What now? Lonny yelled. Can you see what
weve hit?
Wynn jumped out with Inky behind him. They
coughed in the thick yellow haze that the copter
continued to generate and felt around the front of the
car.
Heres the trouble! Wynn said. We hit an
abandoned motorcycle.
143

No serious harm had been done to Beetle Bomb


beyond a few tears in the fiberglass, but the
motorcycle was worse off than before. The
helicopter disappeared. Lonny shook his head.
This is getting serious, he said. Somebody
wants us out of the race.
Its worse than that, Inky added. I think
someones out to kill us. Sugar in the tank is one
thing, but crashing the car is another. We might have
hit another vehicle, or a ravineeven hurt another
driver.
But why such vicious attacks? Lonny
wondered. There are more expensive cars in this
race with a better chance of winning. Could
somebody want to make a few hundred dollars so
badly that hed murder a team for it?
I think the prize theyre after is bigger than the
race, Inky reflected. And speaking of the race,
were not finished yet. Lets move!
Again they started down the rocky road. Other
competitors were a rare sight now. Beetle Bomb
passed an occasional car, and vice versa, but none of
the vehicles running seemed to be fully intact.
Many groups were stalled by the road, doing
makeshift repairs in an attempt to limp into La Paz.
Other drivers were thumbing rides along the way,
but Wynn indicated that they had a full house.
They passed occasional farms, and the landscape
144

became greener with small oases. Chickens pecking


by the roadside scattered, squawking, back to their
farmyards when Beetle Bomb roared through.
Wynn sighted two large rocks ahead and steered
to avoid them. But at the last moment, he saw that
his right wheel might drop into a ditch. He
straightened the wheels and straddled the rocks.
Bang! They slammed against the underside of the
chassis.
Oh brother! Lonny moaned. That couldnt
have done us any good. The lesser of two evils,
though.
There was nothing else he could have done,
Inky added, without wrecking us.
Suddenly Wynn braked to a stop and put his head
on the wheel.
Wynn, are you sick? Lonny asked urgently.
Ive had it. If I keep on driving, well all get
killed.
Lonny gave him a shove on the shoulder. Here.
Ive goldbricked enough. Im up to taking over for
the rest of the trip. You get some rest.
Wynn did not resist, as he was guided into the
space Inky had occupied beside the gas tank. She
folded her coat to make him a pillow. He toppled
over and was asleep before the car was on the move
again.
Soon a new problem arose. Inky, have you been
145

noticing the gas gauge? Lonny asked. Either it


isnt working right or were very low. I switched to
the reserve tank and nothing happened.
Oh, no, Lonny! They must have filled only one
tank at the last stop. We were so busy finding out
the news, I forgot to tell them. She thumped the
tank, and it rang with an empty sound.
Lets see how far we can make it, Lonny said.
Maybe we can siphon some fuel out of an
abandoned car. He was now in complete control of
his wits. The long sleep induced by the poisonous
cactus had left his head strangely clear.
It was not long before they spied a racer beside
the road, the radiator spewing over. When they
stopped, they found that a broken hose had cost the
occupants their full load of water. The driver and
navigator were exhausted, their faces burned red by
the desert sun. Lonny offered them their drinking
water when suddenly Inky remembered something.
The cache, Lonny! Remember, its up the road.
Be back in a minute! She jumped aboard the buggy
and drove to the hiding place. When she returned,
she was frowning.
It wasnt gone, was it? Lonny asked.
No, it was there. But I just looked at our gas
gauge and took a measurement with a stick. We
havent enough to go another mile!
That we can take care of, the other driver said.
146

One good turn deserves another.


Lonny quickly rigged up a siphon and drew
enough fuel to go on. Their exhilaration and new
hope was short-lived, however, when Inky spotted a
log in the road ahead.
Pull up, Lonny, she cautioned. Wed better not
try to go over that one. When he halted, they both
jumped out. Inky took one end of the log, Lonny the
other. As they rolled it out of the way, Inky had the
prickly feeling that they were being watched. She
wheeled around to see three men peering at them
from behind a huge boulder across the road.
Look, Lonny! Those are the ones from the
helicopter! Inky whispered. I remember them!
They have guns, Lonny said. Come on. Lets
make a break for it! He grabbed her by the arm and
dashed toward the buggy, but the men, brandishing
pistols, ran forward to intercept them. They were
swarthy-skinned and fashionably dressed in business
suits. No ordinary bandits these, Inky thought.
Who are you and what do you want? Lonny
demanded.
Okay, enough games, the tallest of the three
said in a heavy accent. Where is the package? Give
it to us!
Package? The riders were dumbfounded, and
Inky said, Just what are you talking about?
The noise had stirred Wynn from his sleep, and
147

he sat up. Whats going on?


So you pretend not to know? the leader said.
Liars! We have orders from Seor Gavilan to kill
you unless you turn over the package!

148

CHAPTER XVI

Mexican Stand-Off

Wynn noticed the guns now and was suddenly wide


awake. We dont have a package for anyone! he
exclaimed.
There must be a mistake, Inky added.
No mistake. This is the car! Our agent hid the
package under it when you were in La Paz with the
truck. When you crossed the border back into the
United States, another representative looked for it,
but it was gone. So now will you tell us what you
did with it?
If you hid anything under Beetle Bomb, Lonny
said, it must have fallen off between La Paz and
Mexicali. How could we know about the package
anyway?
Wynn climbed from the buggy and walked over
beside his friends. I get the picture, he said.
Remember the prowler that night in La Paz?
149

Thats right, Lonny recalled. The one Archie


scared off. He must have been the agent theyre
talking about.
Ah. Now you understand, another of the
bandits said. So maybe you can tell us how it
disappeared between La Paz and the border. He
lifted his gun, pointing it in Wynns face.
Thats why everyone was out to get us! Lonny
exclaimed. It had nothing to do with the race!
We were the fall guys for a bunch of smugglers.
Gavilan set us up with his zoo story! Inky stormed.
If the package didnt fall off, Lonny reasoned,
someone must have taken it. But whereand
when? It had to disappear before we got the buggy
back to the garage, because I went over it
completely, underside included.
We didnt leave the car until we got to the
restaurant on the other side of the border, Wynn
added.
Wait! Inky broke in. Remember the time the
policeman searched the truck and wanted to arrest us
for hauling the turtles? He looked over Beetle Bomb,
and under it, too! She turned to the men. Maybe
he took your package.
I think you have it! One of the bandits scowled.
Wait, Jos, the leader said. What police?
Where?
150

It was evident that they were becoming alarmed.


Just outside of La Paz, Wynn said, before we
got to Villa Constitutin.
Inky wrinkled her nose. That policeman was
probably a fake anyhow, or he wouldnt have let us
keep the turtles after fining us.
At the bandits insistence, the boys described the
man. He was very tall, Lonny said, and had
darkish-blond hair.
Dont forget the eye, Inky reminded him. He
had one cat eye.
Ojo de Gato! the leader fairly spat out the
name. Young fools! That was Gavilans enemy, no
policeman! How did he learn of our plans?
We dont know, Inky said. Is there some kind
of feud between Gavilan and Ojo de Gato?
Shut up! The bandit boss mumbled, and they
began talking rapidly in Spanish, gesticulating all
the while. Inky smiled and remained silent until they
had finished.
What was in the package, heroin? she
demanded.
The men laughed, and Jos said, Maybe we
should kill you anyway.
The third man spoke up. Kill the racers. Ill take
the woman. He tucked his gun in his belt and
approached Inky. But the girls hands were quicker
than the eye. She karate chopped him and snatched
151

the gun before anyone could move. Then she


pointed the weapon at the two men, who stood with
mouths agape, still fingering their guns. A real
Mexican stand-off! No one spoke. Wynn and Lonny
felt their skin grow clammy despite the desert heat,
but Inky remained steady. She did not back down.
Finally the leader mumbled something. The men
turned away and walked toward a stand of scrubby
palm trees. On the other side, the Americans noticed
for the first time, stood a helicopter partially hidden
by the foliage. The racket started and the copter
lifted. Minutes later it had disappeared from sight.
Whew! Wynn mopped his forehead with a
handkerchief. Inky, you looked steady as a rock,
holding that gun.
She laughed. I should get the Academy Award
for acting because Im deathly scared of weapons.
She leaned back and flung the gun into the desert.
They climbed into Beetle Bomb, eager to make up
the lost time and to report the holdup to the
authorities in La Paz. Mile after mile passed, and
pebbles spewed up from the whirling tires. Lonny
slid into the last checkpoint before the finish. The
crew cheered louder than those at earlier stops.
Not much left for you people to do now, Lonny
said. I guess there arent too many racers around
anymore.
The crew worked quickly to fill the buggys gas
152

tanks and give the tires a hasty check.


Youre one of the top runners in your class! a
young mechanic called up from the front wheel.
But another buggys been sighted close on your
tail.
Youre kidding! Wynn couldnt believe it. No.
We have a report from the north that more than half
the field is stranded in the middle of the muddy
lakebed, trying to get unstuck.
If it werent for six nice Mexicans, wed be
stuck too! Inky squealed. Lets get this show on
the road again. Come on!
As they headed back into the race on the final leg
to La Paz, Wynn and Lonny gave bloodcurdling
yells. Beetle Bomb seemed to run with a second
wind as they bounced down the road, dodging a
melon truck on the right. Then it happened. A loud
pounding noise came from under the front of the
buggy.
Oh, no! Wynn moaned. After all weve been
through, Beetle Bomb is giving up.
Lonny stopped, jumped from the car, and crawled
under it. When he wriggled out, his disappointment
was obvious. Were finished, he said. Torsion
bars broken and without welding equipment, we
cant even do a makeshift repair. There are no
spares. I was sure Id beefed up the suspension
enough, but I guess I goofed.
153

It was those rocks I hit, Wynn said dejectedly.


Im to blame.
No, youre not. It was me and that phony
watermelon that got us into trouble in the first
place.
The threesome sat disconsolately on a roadside
bank, and at every repair suggestion from Inky and
Wynn, Lonny only shook his head. They waited for
the competing buggy to pass. This time, they
thought, there would be no friendly exchange.
Guess thats them now, Wynn said, looking
back down the road. We ought to wave and be
good sports about it.
A spiral of dust appeared in the distance, and
soon a grasshopperlike shape appeared.
Thats no buggy! Inky said.
Youre right! Its a Ford Bronco, Lonny agreed.
The driver, a scarf over his mouth, slowed, came
to a stop, and sat looking at the dejected trio for a
few seconds.
Do you think he knows us? Lonny whispered to
Wynn.
The racer climbed from his car, at the same time
pulling down his scarf.
Its Hooks Conway! Inky exclaimed.

154

CHAPTER XVII

La Paz Fiesta

Hooks Conway climbed out of his car and


approached Beetle Bomb, which appeared to be
kneeling on its left front wheel, the suspension
hopelessly collapsed.
Whats the trouble? he asked, walking toward
the stranded riders.
Lonny gave a weary shrug. Dont rub it in,
Hooks, will you?
Did you hear his Bronco? Inky asked Wynn
with a rueful grin. Sounded strong as a stallion.
No kidding, Hooks went on. Can I give you a
hand?
As you undoubtedly see, we broke a suspension
part, Lonny told him. And we dont have a spare.
Why dont you go back up the road and take one
off the buggy someone rolled behind the cactus?
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We decided to wait, Wynn said, and ask Santa


to bring us one for Christmas.
I wish hed go on his way, Lonny grumbled,
and quit rubbing it in.
I guess hes out to trick us into something, Inky
added, but my tired brain cant figure out what.
Hooks pushed the Bronco off the road, out of the
path of the cars that might be approaching.
All right, he said. Theres something Ive been
wanting to tell you.
Here it comes, Lonny murmured.
I want to thank you for the warning you gave me
about Jayson.
Inky looked up and wrinkled her nose.
It took me a while, Hooks went on, until I
realized how deep I could get involved with
someone like him. Hes in with the smugglers. I
want nothing to do with that!
Smugglers? Inky said. That seems to be the
favorite racket of the day.
Yeah, Hooks said. But if the Feds hit you,
man, youre hit! Did you know Jaysons a big-time
crook? Hes out on bail right now. Hooks paused
for a minute, then added, Besides, three Carolina
folk should be good to one another.
Wynn jumped to his feet. Oh, cut it out. Cant
you see were defeated? Just leave us alone in our
misery.
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Look. If itll make you believe me, Hooks


insisted, Ill take you back to the car I saw and
prove Im not lying.
Lonny rose wearily. We have nothing to lose.
Let me get some tools. He turned to his
companions. If Im not back in thirty minutes,
figure Im dead in a gully somewhere.
Lonny got into the Bronco beside Hooks, who
turned the racer around and sped along the deserted
road.
I have a score to settle with you, Hooks, Lonny
said.
Whats your beef?
You kicked my dog. He hurt for a long time.
No, I didnt. I swear I didnt. I like animals.
And something else. Did you break into
Crawfords garage?
No. Jayson did. He tried to steal plans for a
shady associate of his.
They rode along in silence for a minute. Okay,
Lonny said. Im ready to let bygones be bygones.
He held out his hand, and Hooks shook it.
I hope I can make it up to you, he said. See
over there? Thats where the wreck is.
They came to a large stand of prickly pear and
stopped. Lonny looked through the flat cactus faces
and noticed the driving lights atop the roll bar of a
buggy. It had been hidden in a gully, probably until
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its owner could find a way to retrieve it. Both got


out and carefully pushed through the growth. A
closer look revealed that the engine was blown and
had expelled a large black puddle in the sand. A trail
led from the road to the hiding place.
Looks as if hes got a blow at the bottom end,
Lonny added.
Yeah. Crankshaft. Probably not much left worth
saving.
The two engine buffs began making a painstaking
examination of the destroyed machine until Lonny
blurted, Why am I wasting my time doing this?
Engine parts I dont need!
He climbed down the gully to look at the front
suspension. Youre right, Hooks, he said. It has
the spare we need. Ill leave the guy a note and tell
him Ill replace the piece when we get back to Los
Angeles.
Lonny looked up at his former enemy, who was
smiling. Thanks, Hooks, he said.
The big fellow replied with a wave of the hand.
The only reason I caught sight of it was because I
was looking for a Bronco to see if I could borrow
carburetor jets. I misjudged on the air density down
here.
We were right about ours, Lonny said, but we
had the benefit of a prerun.
If you get to work on that fast, Ill wait for you.
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At the last checkpoint, I found the closest car to me


is two hours back and Im an hour and a half behind
Parnelli Jones. Fat chance of catching him, huh?
Guess so. But it doesnt hurt so much to be
beaten by the best, Lonny said, and he began to
disassemble the suspension. When he had the bolts
undone, Hooks lifted the buggy away from the
torsion bar and Lonny picked it up. When they
reached Beetle Bomb, Inky was jumping with glee.
They havent come by yet, Lonny. Youve got
the spare! Wow! Wynn lost a bet and owes me a
steak dinner!
You bet on me? Hooks asked with a wry smile.
Thank you. With that he gunned his machine, and
it growled away, toward the finish line.
During the repair work, Inky reported on every
dust cloud that approached, trying to alert the boys
on the passing of their competitor.
A car roared by. Wasnt him, she said, as
Lonny tightened the last bolt. He threw the tools on
the floor of the buggy, and they leaped back in with
Wynn at the wheel once more.
When they neared La Paz, Mexicans were lined
up along the road, cheering the racers as they went
by.
Inky laughed and waved. I didnt know there
were this many people in Baja! she exclaimed.
Ahead, they sighted the finish line. There was a
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row of pennants and the white-bearded man with the


checkered flag, the same one who had started the
race. Wynn passed the line and stopped. They shook
hands with several waiting officials and were told to
report to the impound area and leave the car for a
check.
What was our finishing position? Wynn asked
anxiously.
Results will be unofficial for a while, but at
present youre third in your class.
Whoopee! Inky screamed at the top of her
lungs, and Wynns face was one big grin.
It was worth it after all! Lonny cried.
They drove through the familiar streets of La Paz
to the impound area, letting Beetle Bomb glide along
while they breathed the clean salt air. At the
designated spot, they climbed out to face the
photographers.
Imagine. At a time like this, I cant find my
comb, Wynn joked, running his fingers through his
tangled hair. Their clothes were the color of the
desert, with dried clumps of mud hanging to their
jeans. Their eyes were bloodshot, and only after they
had stopped did the boys notice the sore spots in the
palms of their hands.
On the far side of the impound area, Lonny
spotted Nancy-Raes bike. Her team made it! he
said. I wish Bud could be here to see this. Hed
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forgive her for everything on the spot!


Then Teddy Crawford ran up and wrapped his
arms around Lonnys legs. You won! he
screamed.
Well, not exactly, Teddy. But from what weve
been through, youd think we had. And thanks for
sending Gaterade with your friend at Camalu.
Hows Archie?
Fine, Teddy replied.
The boys shook hands with Crawford, who was
close behind. Did we ever have an adventure!
Wynn said. He began to relate the story, which was
taken up by Lonny and Inky. Teddy listened saucereyed, and when they mentioned the mysterious
package, he exclaimed, Boy! Thats better than
TV!
And you still dont know what was in it?
Crawford shook his head. I wonder if well ever
find out.
It will be known as the Mystery of the Mexicali
1000, Inky said, and may become a famous
unsolved case.
Crawford gave the boys the name of his motel,
where he had reserved rooms for them. If you want
to go to the police first, Ill meet you there later, he
said. And Ill get a room for Inky, too.
Well all have a table together at the victory
dinner tonight, Teddy announced.
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At police headquarters, the captain in charge sat


stiff-lipped and impassive as the trio spun their story
of the smuggling intrigue. He made a few notes and
when they finished, he said politely, Gracias.
Do you have any ideas about who our attackers
were, Captain? Lonny asked.
Gavilans men, obviously. But who? the officer
shrugged.
And what of the bandit called Ojo de Gato?
Wynn asked. What do you know about him?
For the first time, the officer allowed himself to
smile. We know many things, he said. But
understand, this is an internal matter. I will file your
report. Good day!
On the way back to the hotel, Wynn spied NancyRae waiting in line at the one available pay phone
on the main street. You two go on ahead. If NancyRaes phoning her father, I want a word with Bud,
too.
Why dont you invite her to sit with us tonight?
Inky suggested.
Great idea. Will do.
Nancy-Rae seemed embarrassed when Wynn
spoke, and he was glad he had approached her alone.
I guess you know who Im calling, she said, the
color rising in her cheeks. Im kind of scared after
all this time.
When youre through, let me have a word, too.
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Okay?
She nodded, and he stepped out of earshot. He
stole a glance at the girl now and then. Her freckled
face was full of joy, and tears trickled down her
cheeks. When she had finished, Nancy-Rae looked
at Wynn. Here, she said with eyes glistening.
Your turn now.
Bud Eubankss congratulations and thanks came
through the wire. Wynn, he said, I feel like a new
man. Nancy-Raes coming home!
Shes really proved herself, Wynn said. You
can be proud of that girl, Bud!
After he had hung up, Wynn invited Nancy-Rae
and her co-rider to join them at the victory dinner.
If I can come in this outfit, the girl said, a little
embarrassed. Its all I have here.
Of course. Wynn laughed. This is the costume
Ill be wearing, too.
By that evening, the boys third place had been
declared official. Winners and near winners were
introduced, including Hooks Conway, and when the
master of ceremonies briefly described the WynnLonny team with their hitchhiker Inky, the guests
clapped and cheered.
Teddy said, Now youre all famous!
Nancy-Rae and her friend, a tall girl in her midtwenties named Joyce, were given an ovation for
withstanding the grueling cycle ride. They stood up
163

and took a bow.


The next morning La Paz was bustling with
racers preparing for the trip back to the United
States. Wynn and Lonny made plans to take the
ferry to the mainland and drive Beetle Bomb from
there. Nancy-Rae would do the same with her
motorcycle.
What about you, Inky? Wynn asked at
breakfast.
Im getting a ride back to find Froggy, she
said.
Just then Crawford entered, holding a newspaper.
Wheres Teddy? Inky asked.
Still asleep. Tuckered out after a big day. But
look at this!
The paper was from Los Angeles. Its front page
carried the headline: BANDIT CHIEF OJO DE GATO
SLAIN IN BAJA.
Oh, no! Inky exclaimed. Chills ran through the
young racers as Wynn read the article.
During a confrontation, de Gatos rival
Ernesto Gavilan shot him in the head. Gavilan
was arrested for murder in Villa Constituci6n
along with an accomplice, Charles Jayson, an
American.
And all on account of the missing package,
164

Lonny said. Read on, Wynn. What was in it?


Diamonds! Over a million dollars in stolen
diamonds!
The article said that the contraband had been
smuggled from Europe to Mexico, where it was
fenced to Gavilan. He brought it to La Paz, where he
arranged to have it smuggled across the border at
Mexicali.
Through us! Inky squealed. Go on! What
happened next?
The diamonds were hijacked by Gavilans arch
enemy Ojo de Gato. When Gavilan found out about
this, the shoot-out followed. Details of the hijacking
have not yet been brought to light.
Wow! Lonny said. We know the details!
Goll-ee! Inky said. It makes me nervous to
think we were sitting on top of a million dollars
worth of gems!
The trio reread the article several times, still
tingling over the role they had played in the
smuggling plot.
And riding the Mexicali 1000 at the same time!
Crawford said. Id say youre all super kids!
It was early afternoon when they broke up to go
their separate ways. Inky kissed Wynn and Lonny.
Yall take care now, she said. Yhear?
Sure thing, Inky, Wynn said. See you at the
next race!
165

Crawford and Teddy, who would fly back in a


couple of hours, waved to the girl. Come to the
shop some time! the jovial man invited her.
Shortly afterward the boys and Nancy-Rae stood
wistfully on the deck of the ferryboat as it crossed
the Gulf of California. Silently they watched
porpoises playing in the frothy wake. Beetle Bomb,
now shiny yellow after a bath, was on board too.
I dont think we need to worry about Inky,
Wynn said. Do you?
Lonny shook his head. Im sure shell have no
trouble finding her car. Listen, how about something
to eat? Im hungry.
That reminds me, Wynn said. I owe her a
steak dinner!

166