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THE VANISHING GOLD TRUCK

 

CHAPTER I

 

THIS SIDE OF NOWHERE!

 

Jim Craney, driver for the MacWhorter’s Mammoth Motorized Shows, brought to a stop the huge lion cage on wheels in which, back of the gaudy gilt and crimson circus-wagon panels which covered it tightly, lay the show’s big lioness and her five newly born cubs. With one sunburned hand he peered, against the hot 2 o’clock afternoon sun, down the deserted hard dirt road along which his gas-driven cylinders had been impelling him, thence toward the lone dilapidated clapboard constructed and tar-paper thatched store that hovered by the godforsaken wayside.

Desperately, Jim Craney, in his striking costume as a MacWhorter’s Shows driver, wondered whether this lonely store, standing defiantly in this region of vast distances, no habitations and virtually no people, had a tap-in on the local countryside telephone line which, but a short while ago today, he had learned was installed in a conduit, far under the surface of the road—a bit of constructive elaboration out of old W.P.A. days; and also did he wonder whether—if the store did have such a tap-in—did, in short, have a telephone!—he could possibly get connection on it with the one man in this entire desolate area who could make it possible for him to get this big cat and her 5 kittens to Foleysburg before the show closed tonight. And last but not least, Jim wondered helplessly whether this man—hard-boiled sheriff as the latter was— devout hater of all cats as he was also, as Jim had learned, less than 30 minutes ago—a man who, as Jim had likewise been informed at the same time, had even once been cruelly despoiled and injured by a member of the cat family— would go one single 64th of an inch out of his way to expedite the movement of one large cat and her 5 kittens.

And unfortunately, as Jim realized with a heavy heart, unless he somehow, and some way, and in some miraculous manner, got to Foleysburg tonight before the show closed and went on to Spottsville, he had irrevocably and forever lost the one woman in the world he really loved—had ever loved—the woman who—

And once more, before trying his luck on there even being a telephone inside such a ramshackle store, he took out the folded letter he had found under the seat cushion of his lion-cage wagon, atop his roadmaps, about the time he’d started this morning from Pricetown, and opened it out again. Written only in pencil, on several sheets of coarse paper, it spelled—for Jim Craney—the veritable end of his life. Unless this hard-boiled sheriff—this hater of all cats—this victim of cats—this—

And gloomily and morosely Jim reread the letter.

 

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