Without warning the street door to the
Model Garage office was thrust open and a breathless voice shouted:
"Where is everybody? Can I use the phone?"
Gus Wilson looked up from the car he was
working on and into the office through the open shop door.
"Sure," he told the newcomer, a young man
in a brand-new conservative gray suit, and he put down his wrench and walked
into the office, wiping his hands on a piece of waste.
Joe Clark had knocked off an hour early
that afternoon, and Gus was keeping his eye on his partner's office while
finishing up a job on the shop floor. The young man, obviously a
veteran even without the discharge button in his lapel, had already given a
number down in the city and was nervously watching the clock on the office
"That you, Mr. Beldon?" he said anxiously
into the phone. "This is Clyde - Roger Clyde.. Yes - yes, I'm on my
way, but I'm having - I mean, something came up that delayed me.. What's
His face lost all remnants of its ruddy
outdoor glow, and heads of perspiration broke out on his forehead.
"But you can't do that!" he pleaded.
"You promised.. Well, I'll make it."
He hung up the phone with a look of
almost desperate determination on his face.
"Know the Riverside Apartments in the
city?" he asked Gus. "I've got to be there in exactly 45 minutes, and
you've got to get me there!"
"Why me?" Gus wanted to know.
"You've got a car. I hear its motor running outside. You can
easily drive it in a half hour."
"But you don't understand," retorted
Clyde. "Two cylinders are missing.. "
"Don't argue with me," Clyde shouted.
"I want it hitting on all eight."
Gus began to suspect that his visitor was
AWOL, from some psychiatric ward. "Take it easy, son," he said
soothingly. "I'll be glad to help you, but.. "
"Quit stalling," the man said and dragged
him outside. "There can't be anything serious. The car's just
out of the shop."
Gus listened to the motor of the sedan.
"Two cylinders are missing, all right," he agreed. "When did you lose
"What difference does it make when I lost
them?" Clyde returned. "Do something!"
Gus is usually even-tempered, but he
decided the time had come for plain talk.
"Look here," he said. "If I do this
job, I'll do it my way. There isn't time to check your engine, so
answer my questions or take the car somewhere else."
Clyde tried to smile. "You're
right," he admitted. "I've come from Hilton just after having the
motor overhauled. The car ran fine for about 10 miles, and then began
to miss. First it hit on seven cylinders, then on only six. I
stopped at the first garage, and the mechanic put in new spark plugs.
Everything was fine again - for another
10 miles. Then the motor began hitting on only six again. At the
next garage, the mechanic tested all the plugs and the ignition wiring, and
finally decided there was dirt in the carburetor."
Clyde paused to catch his breath.
"He charged me plenty for cleaning and
adjusting the carburetor - and what was the result? Here I am, and on
He looked at his watch. "Man, we're wasting time!" he yelled.
"O.K.," Gus told him and lifted the hood.
For thirty seconds he peered beneath it. "Stan," he called in to the
Model Garage grease monkey, "get me some tape."
Even as he did mysterious things with the
tape, the rough-running engine settled to a smooth pace. Gus
straightened and dropped the hood back in place.
"All right, mister, there are your eight
cylinders," he grinned. "That's 50 cents - and you've still time to
get to the Riverside."
"No, you don't," Clyde told him.
"Those other fellows fixed it so it ran all right for a while. You're
coming with me in case it starts missing again."
"Say, what is this?" Gus demanded.
"It's a - a matter of life and death,
almost," Clyde pleaded. "Please come."
Gus knew he shouldn't, but he felt sorry
for the young fellow and agreed. He told Stan to look after the shop.
"I'll drive my own bus," he said.
"You follow. I know a short cut, and I know the cops."
Ordinarily Gus Wilson doesn't drive fast, but when he wants to get some
place in a hurry, he can do it. When he pulled up at the Riverside
with young Clyde just behind him, they had two minutes to spare.
A fat man was standing on the sidewalk
with a dozen or more people grouped around him - all with that same harried,
anxious look that had been Clyde's.
The fat man looked at his watch as Clyde
got out of the car.
"You cut it pretty close," he said.
"That the car?" And he got in and drove away.
Gus looking at the disappointed faces in
the crowd, couldn't hold in any longer.
"What is this, anyway?" he asked.
"Beldon's got an apartment he's going to
sublet to me in return for selling him my car," Clyde told him. But
the relief on his face gave way to anxiety again, and he muttered: "I
hope it doesn't start missing."
"It won't," Gus assured him. "But
what's this apartment deal?"
"Beldon and I are salesmen for the same
company," Clyde explained. "I'm being transferred from Hilton to the
city, where I don't need a car, and Beldon is being transferred upstate
where he does need one. I offered to sell him my car in exchange for
his apartment. But he's a tough customer, and he'd give me only until
5:30 this afternoon to deliver the car. If I hadn't shown up, he'd
have traded with one of these other people.
"Now I see," Gus laughed. "I knew
cars were hard to get because I'm sort of in the car business, but I never
dreamed the housing shortage was this bad."
Beldon drove back in Clyde's car and got out. "Sorry, folks," he
called to the crowd.
"Clyde here has a priority on my
apartment, since his car's in good shape. I gave him my word.
But if he'd been a minute late - "
"Gee, thanks, Mr. Beldon," Clyde beamed.
"You keep the car, and I'll be down Thursday to take over the apartment and
close the deal with you."
He looked at his watch, "I've got to
catch the six o'clock train back to Hilton. Will you drive me to
the station, Mr. Wilson?"
They climbed into Gus's old but well-kept
coupe, and Clyde asked what he owed. Gus added the time for the trip
to the original 50 cents and pocketed the money.
"It's Beldon's worry now," Clyde said as
they neared the station, "but what was the matter with the car?"
"Oh, nothing much," Gus laughed.
"The mechanic who overhauled your engine was careless in replacing the hose
that feeds hot water to the heater. In your car it passes straight
over the engine and, as soon as I lifted the hood, I saw it was sagging and
touching two spark plugs. Besides, you had just had your engine tuned,
the spark plugs were new, and the carburetor had been cleaned, so I was
looking for a short."
"But the hose is rubber," Clyde
protested, "a nonconductor. It wouldn't short."
"No?" Gus grinned. "But yours must
have had a little leak. I felt it, and the outside was wet - and water
is a conductor. But taping the hose to a radiator tie rod kept it from
sagging onto the spark plugs. That corrected the short."
"But why did it run fine for a few miles
each time it was fixed?"
"Oh, those mechanics pushed the hose
aside to check the plugs," Gus replied. "But it jogged back again on
They pulled up at the station, and Clyde
"Maybe I ought to tell you, Mr. Wilson,"
he said hesitatingly. "The real reason I needed that apartment so bad
is because I'm going to be married Thursday, the day I'm to transfer
to the city, and we would have had to postpone it if we couldn't have found
a place to live. Wait until I see Eloise tonight! Won't she be