When Gus Wilson and his
helper in the Model Garage, Stan Hicks, heard the crash, they rushed out
into the street. An amazing sight met their eyes. The long-snouted
limousine of Fenton Smith, a wealthy and somewhat irritable financier, had
rammed into the rear of Tony Coskey's pickup truck. The impact had
caused an assortment of fruits and vegetables to erupt from Tony's vehicle.
Melons, tomatoes, grapefruit, oranges and cabbages rolled about under the
feet of gathering spectators.
Smith's chauffeur, Bill
Sullivan, a burly ex-Army sergeant, sat behind the wheel of the limousine
with a stunned expression on his face. Fenton Smith, a thin lath of a
man with the predatory features of an eagle, had his head out the window,
engaging in heated discussion with Tony. Officer Jerry Corcoran was
just arriving on the scene.
"You clumsy ox!" Smith
said. "A man isn't safe with you driving that junk pile about.
You didn't signal your stop. I'll sue you for damages."
Tony, a squat little
man who supported his family by peddling vegetables, looked up at Smith in
"But, Mr. Smith," he
protested, "you can't sue me. I didn't run into you. You ran
Gus ran his expert eye
over the points of impact between the two vehicles, noting that the only
damage to Tony's truck was a broken tail light, while the Smith limousine
had its very expensive radiator grille smashed beyond repair.
"That grille," Smith
declared, getting down to look at it, "will cost a pretty penny to replace.
Officer Corcoran, since this fellow stopped abruptly without signaling, he's
at fault. He should be arrested for reckless driving."
At first glance it
seemed ridiculous that the testy financier should blame Tony for the crash,
since his car had struck the truck. It was entirely possible that
Tony's stop light hadn't been functioning. If so, and if Tony had
failed to signal his stop with his hand, Smith might be able to make his
charges stick. Since Tony's stop light was now smashed, the answer to
the question of fault seemed to be with Bill Sullivan. Jerry
Corcoran's eyes turned questioningly to the chauffeur.
"It wasn't Tony's
fault, Officer," Sullivan said, breaking the stunned silence. "His
stop light flashed. I wouldn't have hit him if my brakes hadn't
"Brakes failed!" Smith
roared glaring suspiciously at Sullivan. "Rubbish, I don't believe
Jerry Corcoran inquired
softly, "And why would you think your own chauffeur would lie about the
knowingly at one another, for there wasn't a person present who didn't know
that Tony Coskey had served in the Army under Bill Sullivan, and the two
were fast friends. It could well be that Sullivan was taking the blame
for the crash on his own square shoulders to spare his friend.
"You'll do well to
remember who pays your salary, Sullivan," Smith said angrily.
"Covering up for this fellow will only get you fired."
"Sorry, sir," Sullivan
said firmly. "The brakes failed."
"Check these brakes,
Wilson," Smith ordered.
Gus got in the
limousine drove it back and forth, supplying the brakes. The firm
resistance of the brake pedal, the instant response, told Gus that, at the
moment anyway, there was nothing wrong with the brakes.
"They seem to be all
right now," Gus said, "but - "
"Don't give me any
buts, Wilson," Smith interrupted. "Check the brakes thoroughly.
If there's nothing wrong with them I'll get a new chauffeur and Tony Coskey
can pay the bill for the repairs on my car."
Sullivan said, "But I
tell you, sir - "
"We've heard enough
from you, Sullivan, for one day," Smith said, "Get on with it, Wilson."
As Gus drove the car
into the Model Garage he could see Tony Coskey bustling about, gathering up
his fruits and vegetables. From the miserable expression on his face,
Gus knew that the little man realized a new grille for Smith's limousine
would cost him more than he could hope to make in a month.
Gus had never liked
working on Fenton Smith's car while the owner was around. The
eccentric bachelor was inclined to look over his shoulder, complaining,
issuing orders. Now Gus found, Smith was even more suspicious than
usual, undoubtedly feeling that all hands were against him to get Tony
Coskey off the hook. Smith watched every move Gus made as he worked on
Perhaps, Gus thought,
the hydraulic fluid was low in the master cylinder, admitting air into the
system to cause brake failure. The air might escape to restore brake
action when the brake pedal was pumped. He checked the master cylinder
fluid level through the inspection hole in the floorboard.
Finding plenty of
fluid, he thought of a cocked and frozen wheel cylinder piston, then dropped
the idea. This would lock only one brake. Ample hydraulic fluid
seemed to rule out hydraulic fluid leaks, but to make sure Gus inspected the
system for leaks. There were none. The brake pedal lacked that
springy, spongy feel that would indicate weak hydraulic hoses.
Under pressure, bad
hoses could swell to increase the fluid capacity of the system, and so delay
the brake action. Gus inspected the hoses themselves as a double
check. Everything seemed to be in good working order.
"Drive the car back and
forth while I watch it, Stan," Gus told his helper.
"Step on it hard, so I
can see if brake action is even."
Stan drove the big car
back and forth on the garage floor.
"Enough of this,
Wilson," Smith said impatiently. "Any man can see that those brakes
are all right. Sullivan lied."
"Your brakes seem to be
all right," Gus said thoughtfully, "but your stop lights aren't working.
They didn't flash on when Stan used the brakes."
"Not working!" Smith
exclaimed. "Fix them then - I'm in a hurry."
"Just a moment," Gus
said. He dropped onto a creeper to slide under the car, emerging
almost at once, to remove the red lenses from the stop lights.
Inspection proved that the bulbs were sound.
"We'll road-test her,"
"With the stop lights
out?" Smith protested. "Fix them first."
Gus smiled disarmingly.
"A road test may show why they don't burn. I'll signal my stops by
Smith got in the back
seat. His eyes came to rest on his chauffeur, up front with Gus, and a
look of suspicion came over his face. "You come back here with me,
Sullivan," he ordered. "I'll have no conniving between you two."
Gus drove slowly
through traffic. At the first stop he signaled with his hand, but his
eyes moved to the ammeter. From the rear, Sullivan noticed this and a
puzzled expression came into his eyes.
Gus drove out to a
country road at the edge of town, speeded up, began to apply the brakes
"Is this necessary when
testing stop lights, Wilson?" Smith demanded. "Anyway, you can't see
them from where you sit."
"I can tell if they go
on by a watching the ammeter," Gus explained. "I'm testing the brakes
rose in his seat like a hooked salmon. 'You said the brakes were all
"I said that they
seemed to be all right," Gus reminded him. "Now my theory is that -
As Gus hit the brake
pedal it plunked suddenly to the floor without effect. The big car
careened on without hindrance. Gus brought it to a stop with the
emergency brake, leaped out to wriggle beneath it. He came out
immediately, shaking one hand with a pained expression.
"What's the matter with
you now, Wilson?" Smith demanded.
"Burned my hand a bit,"
Gus said. "I found that stop-light switch a bit warm when I checked it
in the garage, but it sure is sizzling now. No wonder your brakes
"What has a stop-light
switch to do with my brakes?" Smith asked sarcastically.
"Plenty, in this case,"
"This stop light switch
is located on the end of the master brake cylinder, and is operated by
hydraulic fluid pressure. It's shorted out. When Sullivan drove in
heavy traffic, using his brakes often, the shorted switch got so hot that it
caused the fluid to boil. Boiling fluid will create gas I the brake
lines, which has the same effect as air in the lines, bringing about brake
"When I found the
switch warm in the shop and then saw that the stop lights weren't burning,
even though the bulbs were sound, I figured a dead-shorted switch.
Some inferior grades of brake fluid have low boiling points - in fact some
states have passed laws setting up minimum specifications for the fluid.
I'd better check and see what kind of brake fluid Sullivan has been using."
"But you said that the
brakes were working when you tested them in the street," Smith said.
"Brake fluid gas will
condense again as it cools," Gus said, "and the brakes will work normally
again. I didn't check your brakes, Mr. Smith, until quite some time
after the accident occurred. I'll install a new stop light switch to
correct your trouble. Now about Tony Coskey's tail light, I'm sure - "
"Mr. Wilson," Smith
interrupted, and for the first time since Gus had known the testy old
codger, there was a twinkle of humor in his eyes. "What a pity you're
not a lawyer. I could have used you in one of my corporations.
What a beating I'd give Hastings and Company in that lawsuit - er, of
course. I'll repair Mr. Coskey's car. Now, since I'm a very
busy man, shall we get along?"