[A passage from The Motor Chums at Large, originally written 7 January 1973]
t was still early, and the sun was just beginning to touch the spires of the Capitol building with a ray of light. The Motor Chums marveled at the convoluted architecture and the fir-lined streets of America’s first city, where the affairs of entire nations were routinely conducted every day.
“This is something like,” exulted Ned, “We Motor Chums have been in a lot of strange places during our travels, but I never thought we’d come to this: Washington F.D.”
“Founded in 1790 by an accident of Congress,” Harry told them, “the capital city of the Federated States sits astride the mighty Potomac river, not far from Drake Bay. Washington was the first city to be planned expressly to rule a powerful empire, and is one of the glories of the civilized world. Build according to the DeGauss plan—“”
“Shut up and make yourself useful,” snarled Tom. “See if you can find the Smithsonian on this map.” He tossed the map to the aforementioned lad.
“Say, but that hits the spot,” observed Ned, finishing a sandwich, “I wish I had another plateful of ham and eggs, though.”
“I wish you did too,” agreed Tom, “for it would shut you up. Did you find the Smithsonian yet, Harry?”
“Yes, it’s right here, on the Street of Dreams,” point that lad.
“All right, let’s go find it,” said Tom.
“Yes, but where are we?” asked Harry.
“The sign says it’s the Street of Unsatisfied Desire,” Tom informed him.
“All right,” said Harry, “We go down the Street of the Lotus until we come to the Street of the Glorious Resurrection, turn left and keep on till we come to the Street of a Thousand Pleasures.”
“Sounds like the red light district,” murmured Ned.
“No, the Aaron Burr memorial’s located there,” Harry explained. “We turn right and keep on going until we get to the Street of Dreams and we’re there.”
“Let’s go,” said Tom.
“I think we should—ugh,” observed Harry. The interruption was caused by an abrupt collision with a mis-shapen giant which briefly knocked the wind out of him..
“Why’n’cha look where you’re goin’? demanded the figure.
“Sorry,” replied Fletcher.
“Dick!” exclaimed Ned, “It’s Dick Trefoil!”
“Yeah,” said the giant, who was now revealed as their long-time companion and fellow Motor Chum.
“How did you escape from the Smithsonian?” inquired Harry.
“Huh?” replied Trefoil.
“How’d you get away?” Ned wanted to know.
“Ain’t nobody going to stop me,” said the giant in surprise, “I just busted the cage and left.”
“It’s just like Payworthy to pull a stunt like this,” observed Harry bitterly, “Piling improbability upon improbability. I’ll wager we’ll next find Ashton and his cronies attacking the President on the street below.”
“There they are!” Ned shouted, pointing.
“No,” said Harry, “Not even Payworthy—”
“It’s Clarence Ashton and his cronies all right,” said Tom grimly. “They’re stealing fruit from that poor old lady’s fruit stand,”
“That’s just like the bastards,” put in Ned.
“That makes my blood boil,” cried Tom. “The idea of them following me to Washington. This has to be stopped once and for all. Those miscreants are up to no good, I’ll warrant.”
“Let’s get ’em,” suggested Ned.
“Yeah,” agreed Dick angrily.
At that the chums advanced rapidly down the street, to where the bullies were cruelly tormenting the old lady.
Clarence was holding her off while Alphonse shoveled armloads of fruit from the cart into a large sack. Ben Hangdog looked on, capering delightedly in the street and pouring out torrents of abuse. Passers-by paid scant attention to the little drama, perhaps being too engrossed in their own affairs, or perhaps merely inured to such sights.
Suddenly Ben caught sight of our heroes. His jaw dropped. “Holy shit!” he exclaimed, “It’s the Motor Chums!”
“What’re they doing here?” gasped Clarence, turning green. “Run, you idiots!”
But the warning came too late. The Motor Chums bore down on the evil-doers like avenging furies. “Take that, you toady!” shouted Tom, aiming a well-placed kick at Ben Hangdog.
Clarence Ashton, though a bully, was nothing like a coward. He handed a blow to Harry Fletcher that knocked him flat. Ned avenged this insult by pelting the miscreants impartially with apples.
Alphonse Notochord seemed to have no intention of fighting, but under the steady barrage of fruit he grew impatient. Seizing the lady’s purse, he hurled it straight at short Ned Eliot. Catching it deftly, Ned paused to extract some of the contents, only to be felled by a foul blow from Ben Hangdog.
Dick Trefoil, a powerful though unscientific fighter, was making his presence felt by beating the shit out of Ashton. So intent was he in this task that he failed to see Notochord slip behind him with a cement wedge, which he hurdled with force and accuracy at the giant’s head.
Things were going badly for the Motor Chums. “This won’t do,” decided Tom. From his pocket he extracted his electric knife and advanced quickly on Notochord, who backed off. But unfortunately Ashton, though pummeled and breathless, was still conscious, and succeeded in tripping the young inventor, who fell headlong, nearly impaling himself on the knife.
At that moment, when things looked darkest for the Motor Chums, Dick Trefoil rose to his feet, a towering pillar of strength. With a mighty shove, he thrust the fruit cart straight at Alphonse Notochord. The cart rumbled slowly, picked up speed on the slope, and passed over Ashton’s head, rendering him unconscious. Alphonse, stunned in horror, gazed at the contraption bearing down on him and gave a mighty cry. The cart hit him squarely, bounced over the curb, and carried him into the street, right in front of a moving automobile. The collision was tremendous. Apples and oranges scattered over the entire width of the street.
“Jesus Christ,” breathed Tom, “Let’s get out of here.”
Ned staggered to his feet and picked up the sack of fruit and the old lady’s purse. Dick and Harry were already running down the road adds fast as their legs would carry them. Almost miraculously, it seemed to the fleeing chums, a policeman appeared out of nowhere at the scene of the battle and wrote the old lady a ticket.
The four lads paused to rest beside an embassy building. “Why’d you tell us to run?” demanded Dick.
“Because we Motor Chums have no need of reward for our good deeds,” replied Tom sternly. “It’s the duty of every American to do at least one good deed every day.”
Ned paused in his task of counting the money from the purse. “Say Tom,” he exclaimed, “Look at this! I don’t know if it means anything—” He passed a note to Tom.
“Where’d you get it?” Tom asked him, examining it closely.
“Ben dropped it during the fight.”
Harry snatched it from Tom. “It’s signed Ignatius Baxter!” he exclaimed.
“So?” inquired Ned.
“Ignatius Baxter is the Industrialist Senator from our state!”
“What’s it say?” asked Tom.
Ned read it, with many a strut and grimace, to the delighted Motor Chums. “‘Ben Hangdog: Let me say unofficially that the Industrialist Party greatly appreciates your efforts in our behalf. You have done the Party a great service. However, to be there when the will is to be probated is a mistake. The meeting should be at Jefferson. All ten were there to-night, but those at Cincinnati were Roosevelt’s. If you come, bring help. Ignatius Baxter.’”
“What the fuck is that supposed to be about?” exclaimed Tom. “It sounds like gibberish.”
Ned examined the paper closely. “No, it’s in English,” he chuckled. “What beats me is what it means.”
“There was something in those messages we decoded about a senator dying,” recalled Tom, “Do you suppose that could be the will referred to?”
“Yeah, but what about the meeting? And the ten? And those at Cincinnati? It doesn’t make sense,” objected Ned.
“Well, one thing’s plain at least,” asserted Tom, “Ben Hangdog’s involved in some dark scheme of the Senator against the President. Besides that, it’s a deep mystery.”
“The hell it is,” observed Harry, “The note contains one of the most asshole ideas I’ve ever heard of. It’s in cipher, if so simple an artifice deserves the name. Even you should be able to figure it out.”
The three chums studied the manuscript earnestly for a time, and then Tom hurled it away in disgust.
“Well, I give it up,” he exclaimed, “It’s too hard a riddle for me. What did you make of it, Ned?”
“I’m as puzzled as you, Tom,” said the lad addressed. “Come on, Harry, give us the clew.”
“All right,” said Harry, “Try taking every third word.”
“I never thought of that!” laughed Tom. But exuberance gave way to puzzlement. “Let unofficially Industrialists appreciates in,” he read. “That’s some secret message. It stays secret even when you decipher it.”
“What about ‘Say the greatly efforts behalf’?” suggested Ned. “That seems to make a sort of sense.”
Harry controlled himself. “Start after ‘however’,” he put in.
“There will be a meeting at ten to-night at Roosevelt’s come Ignatius,” read Tom. “Harry, I believe you’ve hit it!”
“That explains everything!” exclaimed Ned. “Ben’s tied up with those conspirators and Orville Risley somehow. And we’ve got to prove it.”
“We came to Washington to warn the President,” observed Harry, “No doubt our information will prove of value in assisting the authorities to defeat the plot.”
“It wouldn’t be right to hog all the glory,” agreed Tom, “I vote we take the clews to Mr. Ingram, whom we did a good turn back in The Motor Chums’ Aerial Search, or Lost in the Everglades for Nine Weeks.”
“Let’s go,” insisted Dick.
Overhead, unnoticed by the Motor Chums, there flew an aeroplane whose wing bore the emblem of a double-headed vulture. It circled three times and vanished into the smoke.