The Father of Hot Rod Henry
Hot Rods and Racing Cars #3
Mr. Thomas Freston, of Freston, Riley and Levine, was not the kind of father who ordinarily lost his temper. As an attorney of many years' standing he had learned to control himself and could smile or scowl as the occasion demanded. He waited until his wife Mary had cleaned the dinner table and then turned his attention to his heir. Henry Freston had managed to survive for seventeen years in the area of Freeport. People liked the red-headed freckle-faced youth who always had a good word on the tip of his tongue, and as president of "The Freeport Hot Rod Club," Henry knew everything about cars. It was this subject that has caused trouble in the Freston household.
"The time has come," began Henry's father, "for you to get over your childish ways. You are becoming a man and next year will enter State College. It is becoming somewhat embarrassing for a man of my standing and position in this community to be referred to as The Father of Hot Rod Henry. I wanted to talk with Judge Kennedy about a very important legal matter. And what do you think he wanted to know? Just what chances did the car you are working on have of beating the car owned by the Hot Rod Club of Huntington? What have you to say for yourself, young man?"
Either Henry was so smart that he evaded the issue or he just missed being brilliant enough to get the point of his father's talk. He started to beam with joy. His dad was really interested in Hot Rod cars!
"I can beat that Hot Rod job that Pete McHugh has fixed up! I don't care what he says about the way he fixed up his ignition. Sam Brown helped me rebuild my motor and she purrs like a honey. I can even get ten more miles an hour out of her — and to think that last year she was ready for the junk heap! And I'll tell you a secret, dad. I braced up the body of the car so that she could almost crash into a wall and nothing would happen to the car — I hope!"
A scowl was appearing on the face of Thomas Freston. In law you presented an issue and met it. His son had not given him the answer he wanted. So he came right to the point.
"You have two weeks to wind up your association with Hot Rod cars and resign from the club. I want no discussion about the matter. It is final and that is all there is to the subject."
If lightning had struck Henry right there on the spot there would have been no difference in the effect. His lower jaw dropped. He wanted to say something but the words froze right in his mouth. Perhaps his mother had heard everything in the kitchen, for she appeared on the scene and took charge of things.
"Tom," she said to her husband, "You have two things to remember. First, your blood pressure. Dr. Jones warned you not to get excited about things. And second, there is your appointment with Mrs. Oppenheimer to discuss the will. You'll be late if you don't hurry."
The head of the Freston household arose from his seat at the table and left the room without even a parting word to his son. But Henry's mother went over to the table and patted her son on the head. She could remember when her husband was courting her. The car he drove in those days could burn up the roads. Once he had taken her driving and dashed crazily through the town. But each generation seems to forget it once was young. Maybe as a person gets older he resents youth, because youth has the most precious thing in the world, something you can't recapture when it is lost.
Sam Brown was out in the garage waiting for his buddy to arrive so they could work on the car. One look at Henry's face was enough to tell him something was terribly wrong in this world. He lifted up his hand and spoke.
"Don't tell me what's wrong. Just let me guess. Did Helen tell you she found another man and wants to get out of your heart? Or did Mr. Lurie reject your book report in English? Or did State College reject your application? It can't be the Men from Mars. We could handle them."
"The world has come to an end," answered Henry with a sigh. "Dad wants me to give up all the Hot Rod stuff. I don't know what got into him. Yet last week he spoke at the Women's Club in fighting Juvenile Delinquency. Doesn't he understand that if you get boys and girls interested in something worth while they just don't get on the wrong path? We got applications in the club from twenty boys and girls. We're doing a lot of good and dad doesn't know it. But he's my pop and what he says goes. However, that race with Pete McHugh is still on, so we better work on the car."
Thursday afternoon was clear. The clouds had cooperated by going to some other community. Pete McHugh's Hot Rod was painted a deep blue and bore the slogan, "Pride of Huntington. We fly on the ground." Next to it was Henry's job, which was painted a loud green and bore the slogan, "The Coolest Hot Rod Job You Ever Saw." Both cars were lined up on a stretch of road that had been abandoned by the county. It was in good condition but when highway 26 had been constructed last year it saved the motorists two miles. This one-mile stretch was now a dead-end road. Pete spoke to Henry.
"Tim will time us at the start and Joe at the finish. Three runs and no more. No bumper bumping or cutting off. Lou rides with me and Sam with you, O.K.?"
The two boys shook hands and then started for their cars. Helen Kaiser was just sweet sixteen and also sweet about Henry. There was a sparkle in her azure eyes and when her corn-colored hair floated in the air it just made Henry's heart skip a beat or two. She came over to Henry and handed him a small scarf.
"In days of old, lady fair gave to her knight her scarf to wear before he went into battle. Maybe it was just a tournament. Or maybe I got my modern history course mixed up. Anyway, just wear it for me. And if you win, then I'll reward you."
The two cars lined up and at the blow of a whistle, started down the course. Henry's car came in first with Pete almost hugging him in the back. As he turned the car around Sam pointed to some flames hitting the sky.
"That must be the Greebel farmhouse. Holy Mackerel! Greebel works in the war plant at Madison. If the kids are in the place they'll burn to death!"
Henry knew what his Hot Rod could do and he raced it right up the hill and made the dirt road that went to the farmhouse. He and Sam jumped out of the car. Three men were trying to throw buckets of water at the house. Mrs. Greebel was hysterical. "The children are upstairs . . . save them . . . they'll be burned . . . Let me go into the house!"
Flames were shooting from downstairs. In a few minutes the house would become an inferno of death. Henry had been inside the place several times and knew the location of the rooms. There was but one chance in a hundred and he was going to take it.
"We'll crash the car through the side of the door. You drive it. I'll jump out and put the scarf over my mouth. I can carry Betsy and Mike. Then back into the car and we crash out again." It was crazy and if the car caught fire both boys would be burned to death. But in that house were two little helpless tots. Before anyone knew what was happening, both boys were in the car and headed straight for the house. They crashed through the side of the door. Henry jumped out of the car and shouted. The kids yelled back. He bounded up the stairs and found them in their bedroom. Covering them with a blanket, he rushed back into his car which was almost covered with flames. In three minutes it was all over.
Henry and Sam were comfortable in their hospital beds. Two more days and they would be released from the hospital. There had been and endless stream of visitors, reporters and photographers to see the two heroes. Helen had been there to keep an eye on her boy friend, but it was mother who gave Henry the best news.
"Father found he was unable to tell it to you. Guess he got tongue tied. He has been acting as temporary president of your Hot Rod Club! And as soon as you are o.k., you and Sam go out and buy yourself a new hot rod and charge it to him. Now rest up, son."
From across their beds Henry and Sam just exchanged looks. So much can be said in a look that can't be expressed in words. All was well with the Hot Rods!
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