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A Ride Down Devil’s Hairpin”

by Matt Christopher
There’s nothing so disturbing as a guilty conscience. Rick found this out when he sold his old car to a dealer without mentioning dangerous brakes.

Rick Bartlett saw the big curve of Black Mountain ahead of him. A really bad curve this one—people called it the “Devil’s Hairpin.” And there was good reason for giving it that name.

Rick touched his foot lightly on the brake pedal of his old car. The brakes did not take hold. “I didn’t think they were that bad,” he thought. He pushed the pedal almost all the way down. The “heap” slowed a little, but not enough.

The curve was just yards ahead now, leaping at him. He held the steering wheel with both hands and headed toward the inside of the curve. The tires screamed as his little car skidded toward the outside, heading toward a row of white post with rows of cable that marked the edge of the road.

The cliff dropped off directly ahead of the car. Rick pressed his lips together hard, eased off on the wheel, and turned it a little. Then he spun the wheel back, got control, and the road stretched straight before him with only a slight curve or two far ahead.

“Whee!” he said aloud. This morning’s ride had been the closest call to a serious accident he had ever had. With thoughts of what might have happened, he drove slowly toward home.

As he turned up the last block, a loud horn blast greeted him from an old car. Two of his friends were going by - Dave Walsh and Burt Neilson. The car belonged to Burt. Dave didn’t have a car of his own, but he had been saving every penny lately toward getting one.

At home Rick looked at his old car. “I’m not going to spend any more money on this pile of junk!” he said. “I’ll get rid of it as fast as I can.” He whistled as he went in the house.

“I’m going to trade in the Heap,” he said to his parents after he washed the grease from his hands and came to the table. “It’s causing me so much trouble. Besides I saw a yellow job in Fenwick’s lot that I like much better.”

The next morning Rick went to ask Mr. Fenwick about trading in his old blue car on the yellow job. Mr. Fenwick asked Rick to start the car’s engine, so that he could hear it idle. He inspected the tires and walked around looking at the car from all sides. “Is everything all right on the car?” he asked. “Is there anything about it that you think should be fixed?”

Rick shook his head. “Of course, it’s not perfect,” he said, “It’s a little slow about climbing hills.”

“O.K.,” said Mr. Fenwick. “Turn it off. We’ll make a deal”

As the boy thought about not mentioning the bad brakes at all, his face flushed. He hoped Mr. Fenwick hadn’t noticed. His words hadn’t really been a lie. He just hadn’t told about the brakes.

The next morning, Rick drove past the car lot. His old car, polished until it looked like new was parked in front with other cars. There was a “For Sale” sign on it. He felt very good. The Heap looked fine. No one would ever guess about its bad brakes – at first.

During the next few days the thought of what the bad brakes might do to someone bothered Rick. Worrying about it began to interfere with his school work, and he was called down several times for not paying attention. By Saturday he’d decided to go to Fenwick’s and explain about the brakes. He would even pay for having the bakes relined.

When Rick reached the lot, he found that the Heap was gone. He jumped out of his car and went to find Mr. Fenwick. “Who –who bought it?” he asked trying to seem calm

“A boy named Walsh,” answered Mr. Fenwick.

In an instant Rick was back in his car and off with a roar. Dave Walsh was his best friend. Dave had worked hard and saved to buy a car of his own. This was terrible!

When Rick reached Dave’s house, there was no sign of the Heap in sight. A little girl in front said, “Dave went for a ride in his new car.”

“Do you know where he went?” asked Rick.

“He said he was going to try his car on Black Mountain,” answered the girl.

Rick sped from the city and soon started up the winding mountain road. He was almost to the top when he saw Dave coming down a little bend up ahead. Dave smiled as he met Rick.

“Hold it, Dave!” Rick yelled.

Rick looked over his shoulder and saw Dave pull to one side to try to stop his car, but it kept on going. Terror filled Rick’s mind as he realized what was about to happen. The brakes would not hold and Dave would soon come to Devil’s Hairpin.

Quickly, Rick pulled into a side road, turned around, and hurried after Dave’s car. It seemed an age before he overtook the car and managed to come alongside it. “Dave, your brakes—“he shouted.

“I don’t have any!” Dave shouted back, his face white with terror.

Rick worked his yellow car around Dave’s car and into the lane ahead of it. Then, after the bumpers touched, he shoved his car into second gear. Even in seconds, he could feel the strain on his brakes as they worked to hold back the two speeding cars. When they reached the Devil’s Hairpin, they made it without trouble!

Dave was imp with relief when they came to a stop at the bottom of the mountain. “What happened?” he asked. “How did you know?”

I knew the brake linings on your car were bad,” answered Rick, “because I almost went off the road here before I traded the car to Mr. Fenwick. I should have mentioned the bad linings to him when I traded, but I didn’t. Now come with me to the car lot so we can have the brakes relined. The charges will be on me.”

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