"Where is that thread-stripping,
nut-rounding car wrecker you call your boss?" bellowed someone just inside
the Model Garage door.
Stan jumped. "Who the - oh, it's
you, Chief Maloney."
Gus appeared from around a car, wiping
his hands. "Sure enough, it's the loud-mouthed smoke eater. You
still on the job, or is it safe to cut down on my fire insurance? How
are you, Mal?"
"Fine, till I think what you'll charge
the town for a small job I need done on my car," said the Chief.
"We'll take it out of your salary.
Don't know when you've last earned it by going to a fire. What job?"
"Tune-up. New points. Gap
the plugs. And I want it done now."
Gus's grin faded. "I'd say yes,
Mal, but Stan has to finish Joe Stanton's car for an important trip, and
I've promised to reline the brakes for Mrs. Munsey while she takes her boy
to the doctor this morning."
Maloney frowned. "Can't you put
her off? That's no emergency job."
"Nor is yours," said Gus. "That
slab-wheeled red crate of yours will haul you any place you need to go
Bring it in tomorrow, huh?"
"Okay, tomorrow." But Maloney's
good humor was gone.
As the fire chief left, Stan peered up
from the crawler he lay on. "You and the Chief sure shout the breeze.
Before I saw who it was, when he called you a left handed mechanic - "
"Go on," urged Gus.
"I thought the guy meant it!" finished
Stan, and rolled under the car to dodge a wad of waste Gus threw at him.
After sending Mrs. Munsey on her way
with better brakes, Gus was phoning a parts order when a banshee whistle
penetrated the office. He finished the call and walked out.
"There goes the whistle for the
volunteer reserves," he remarked to Stan. "Mal must have a big one."
A car siren screamed a block away.
"That's the third one," Stan said. "Two went by while you were
"Then Mal is already there.
Kidding aside, he's right on the ball."
"Maybe he'll call you out," suggested
It was then that the phone rang.
The very air seemed ablaze over
Conwal's Lumber Yard when Gus braked to a quick stop just inside the gate.
Under a pall of resinous smoke, stacked lumber burned all along the back
fence. Maloney was beside Gus immediately.
"It's a bad one, Gus. I need
He pointed through the smoke hose to a
huge wheeled bulk. "Jensen's gas truck jammed in where we can't tow
it, and the engine's dead."
The tank truck, its front against a
brick wall, stood wedged between enormous piles of lumber. Directly
behind it was the yard office, blocking any hope of towing it backward or
from the front end of the driveway. The only point from which towing
could have been done was inside the blazing yard itself.
"That's where the underground tank
its," Maloney explained. "Jensen backed in, delivered gas, and started
to drive out. Just then his engine conked out, so he coasted into that
slot to leave the driveway clear."
The Chief grinned. "That truck
is almost full of gas. The fire won't give us time to move the lumber,
and we can't tow the truck out. If it goes up, it could take the whole
block along with it."
Gus nodded. Across the street
and behind the yard were many modest homes.
"Didn't know till now," Maloney added,
"that Jensen left the ignition on.
Now the battery's too far gone to turn it
over. Got an extra?"
"It's on charge," snapped Gus.
"Got any booster cables? Mine aren't long enough to get in there."
"Couple in the pumper," said Maloney,
and went off. But hope sank when Gus saw the Chief's cables.
Even with Gus's added, they'd be far too short to connect the truck's
battery with the one in the wrecker.
Gus tried to recapture what he knew of
the electrical system of this make of truck. Was the negative side
grounded, as in his wrecker? An even chance...
"Mal, grab this file and clean a spot
my bumper can contact. Get a man to run the wrecker against it and
keep the engine at fast idle. Give me a man in the gas truck, too."
Maloney took the file and started
roaring orders. Gus clamped the four booster cables end to end,
clipped one to the wrecker's ungrounded battery terminal. Holding the
other end, he sidled in between the lumber stack and the gas truck.
The truck hood was up, but the
corroded battery terminals gave no clue as to which was positive, which
Looking back, Gus saw a fireman drive
the wrecker up to nudge the rear of the truck. When it was in firm
contact, Gus brushed the cable end against the ungrounded terminal of
the truck battery.
Only a modest spark flew.
"Polarity's okay," he muttered, and
nodded to Maloney in the truck cab. As Gus clamped on the booster
cable firmly, the starter churned over.
There was not even a cough from the
engine. Yanking a plug cable off, Gus held it over the block. No
spark jumped. He did the same with the high-tension-coil wire.
It too was dead, and he signaled the Chief to stop cranking.
As the noise of the starter died, a
fireman shouted above the snap and roar of-wind-fed flames. "Wind's
Other end of these piles is already
Maloney crawled across the cab, "Gus!
What're chances of moving it?"
"Know in a minute. Leave the
switch on." Snapping the clips off the distributor, Gus lifted the cap
and rotor. With the coil cable again held near the block, he snapped
the breaker arm off the point.
A lively spark jumped between cable
"Switch off!" shouted Gus, and choked
as smoke engulfed him and the engine.
When it cleared, he spotted a chip of
fiber lying in the distributor. He knew what it was at once - a piece
broken off the rubbing block that bore on the cam.
Without it, the cam couldn't open the
points. A rare happening, but here it was deadly.
Eyes stinging, Gus loosened the nut,
pulled the breaker arm off its post. He felt Maloney at his elbow.
"Got another?" asked the Chief.
"Not here - maybe not even in the
shop. It's an old truck." Useless to try to substitute an arm
from the wrecker or any modern car, Gus knew.
"Fire's blowing this way. I've
ordered the houses evacuated. Get out!" Maloney disappeared in a
swirl of smoke.
Coughing, Gus took a pencil stub from
his pocket, thumbed open his penknife, and sawed a quarter-inch length off
the wooden hexagon. But a fit of coughing sent the blade askew.
The fragment flew off.
He laid the pencil on the truck
fender, sawed off another bit. Half of it splintered away.
Prying the lead out of the other half, he set it into the channel of the
tiny contact arm.
It fell out. Savagely Gus sawed
off a slightly longer bit. Almost unable to use, he wedged it into the
channel of the arm, its groove over the stub of broken fiber.
A hand seized him roughly, almost
jarring the precious piece from his grasp.
"Told you to get out!" Mal
"Pile is blazing at the tail end of
the tank now."
Gus coughed. "Spray the tank.
A minute - I may get it to work."
He set the arm on its post. The
pencil-wood block stood clear of the cam. Eyes streaming, Gus
estimated the cam lift, backed the stationary point off a bit, slipped on
the rotor and cap. He heard Maloney shout an order, and the wrecker's
engine roar increased. Coughing uncontrollably, Gus signaled Maloney
in the truck cab. The starter ground. The engine fired at once.
Unclamping the booster cable, Gus
snaked back out of the narrow side. Maloney backed the truck out
almost before he was clear. Its tail clipped a pile of blazing
two-by-fours, scattering them like burning matches. Three hoses arched
in to wet the sparks.
Yanking free the booster cables, Gus
let them fall and jumped into the wrecker.
With split-second timing, the fireman
at the wheel backed out in advance of the oncoming gas truck. In its
cab, squinting through the smoke, Chief Maloney grinned like a triumphant
When a bright red coupe pulled into
the shop next day, Gus shook his head in mock disgust.
"Send him away, Stan. It'll
spoil my lunch to work on that gaudy crate."
"Yeah?" Don't know what's got
into me - trusting town property to a half-brained mechanic who forgets his
booster battery," retorted Maloney.
Stan looked at Gus. "I thought
the newspaper called you both heroes."
"Cheap publicity!" snapped the Chief.
"Now, about that tune up."
Gus looked thoughtful. "Afraid
not today. Got to get Mrs. Smith's car done so she can go to a bridge
tournament - "
He broke into a grin. "Only
kidding, Mal - after yesterday, I guess you rate top priority at the Model