One eye on the clock, Stan hung up the inspection
lamp, picked up a lubricant spray, and headed back under the small English
sedan on the grease rack.
"Hold it a minute, Stan," said Gus, emerging from
the office where he had taken a phone call. "What did I tell you about
using this rack?" Stan flushed under the grease smudges.
"Guess I did forget to put down that safety prop.
But, Gus - it's only a light car."
"Nothing light about twenty-one hundred pounds if
it falls on you. Sure, the risk of the hoist valve bleeding off is
small. But why take any chance you don't have to?"
"Guess I tried to rush it. Mrs. Dolan wants
her car at noon." Carefully Stan set the prop in place.
"Complained of squeaks, did she?"
"Yes, but nothing's loose," said Stan. "Shock absorbers aren't leaking. Chances are
it's the spring leaves, so I'll spray on some oil."
"Hmm, before you take that chance, Stan, do
me a favor."
"Sure, Gus. What?"
"Read the car manual. I left it on the seat
hoping you would." With that, Gus walked out to where his wrecker was
parked, whistling innocently.
Smiling at the remembered expression on Stan's
face, Gus wheeled the wrecker over a county road, a shortcut to the point on
the turnpike from which the call had come. There he found a stalled
motorist. A new fan belt soon put the disabled car back on the road. The job done, Gus left the turnpike and headed
back over the same winding road. Sun sparkled on gritty paving, the
wrecker's motor purred competently, and Gus found time to wonder whether
Stan had got the message about Mrs. Dolan's car. Chances were - Gus
smiled as the thought phrased itself in his mind - that Stan had.
There wasn't a hint, on that sun-drenched country
road, that Gus would soon be taking a long and deadly chance of his own
choosing. The first innocent clue to it was an almost new
sedan ahead. As the wrecker crept up on it, Gus cased off the
throttle. The other car was doing scarcely 30, and Gus
fancied he heard a skip in the engine now and then. A double line
forbade passing, so Gus stayed back. As the road began to climb, the new car barely
At the crest, just below a railroad crossing, Gus
heard the other driver shift down. But the car lurched onto the track
only to buck to an abrupt stop. At that moment the crossing blinder began to flash
its red-eyed warning. Simultaneously the other car's starter began to
grind. As it kept on, Gus realized two things: The other driver
could see neither blinker, and with the starter groaning, he probably
couldn't hear the warning bell. But as he shut off the starter, the clang reached
him. The man behind the wheel put his head out, then renewed his
efforts to start the dead engine.
"Why doesn't he jump?" thought Gus. The car's starter ground desperately.
Even as Gus was about to get out and shout his
warning, he saw something that impelled him to act. A child's face
rose into sight at the rear window.
Quickly shifting into low gear, Gus approached the
car as fast as he dared and nudged none too gently into the bumper. The child rose higher in surprise, and Gus saw
that it was a girl.
As the other car moved, an air whistle screeched
offside, and in a split-second glance Gus saw a diesel locomotive bearing
down, its cab looming in the wrecker's window. He felt his wheels bump
over the tracks, saw the car lurch safely past the far blinker, and felt a
shock of air as the train blasted by, inches behind the wrecker.
The car ahead rolled to the side of the road and
stopped. Its driver got out shakily as Gus pulled alongside. A
slender, sandy-haired, well-dressed man in his late forties, he evidently
found it hard to speak.
"That was - we - thank you!" he blurted.
"Knew it was time to jump - but we couldn't."
"You cut it too fine!" exclaimed Gus, but fell
silent as the driver opened a rear door. The dark haired little girl
in back wore leg braces.
"She can have them off soon," her father
explained. "We're headed for the doctor now. But she still can't
move quickly. I - I don't think we'd have made it, except for you."
Gus mopped his damp face. "Bad time for a
car to act up."
The man shook his head. "No, it was my
fault. I knew it was time for new points again. Please tow us in
and install them."
As Gus rolled into the Model Garage with the car,
Stan waved and called. "Thanks for the tip, Gus."
"About not taking a chance on that squeak job.
This car has rubber spring bushes. The manual said to paint the bushes
with brake fluid. I used rubber lube. No more squeaks."
"Fine, While I eat lunch, you might check this car
for hard starting."
When he returned, he found Stan replacing the
"It's a wonder he got out on the road. Points were the worst burnt I ever saw."
Stan touched the starter. The engine caught
at once. "See? New points. Got a real hot spark now."
"Okay, Stan. Make out the bill. Half
price on the tow."
"Half? But it was a road call - " "Special case," snapped Gus, and escaped into the
office. For an hour he made out bills, with an uneasy sense of having
forgotten something. Finally he put his head out.
"Stan! Call me when the owner of that hard
starter shows up."
"He's here now," said Stan in a curiously awed
tone, and Gus saw that the stranger and the girl, whom he had dropped off at
the doctor's door, were in the shop. Gus went over.
"I'm Ralph Emerson," said the stranger, "and this
is Susan. It seems the whole town knows you, Mr. Wilson."
"It's a small town," answered Gus. "Now I remember! Did you say it was time
again for new points?" Emerson nodded. "Sixth time since I've had
this car. It burns them up in two weeks. Nobody knows why."
"The condenser's okay," volunteered Stan. "I
checked it out."
"Everything's okay," agreed Emerson. "But the points always burn."
"How about the coil?" asked Gus.
"One man put in a new one a month ago. He
thought the factory had installed a six-volt coil by mistake. But it
made no difference."
"Did you buy the car new?"
"Yes, at a bargain. Then I heard why. The dealer had bought a number of new cars from an
out-of-state agency in a flooded area. He hauled the cars here,
installed new wiring and sold them at a discount." The wiring did look new, with no sign of water
damage. Gus scrutinized the thin primary wires connected to the coil
as if counting threads in the insulation. Disconnecting one, he hooked an ammeter into the
line and turned on the ignition briefly.
"I think we've got it," said Gus. "Stan, get
me an ignition parts list for this car." Studying the short, Gus checked one item on it.
Stan scurried off again.
"More trouble?" asked Emerson.
"The end of your trouble, I think," said Gus.
"You won't need new points for a long time."
As Stan did the job, Gus motioned the customer and
his daughter to chairs and began filling his pipe. "Actually, your
dealer was conscientious. But he made a mistake."
"How so, Mr. Wilson?"
"Most ignition systems have a resistor in the
primary circuit to hold current to a safe limit on starting and idling, when
everything is cold and resistance low. Now some 1960 cars have a
resistor wire instead. The mechanic who rewired yours didn't know
that. He ripped it out and put in ordinary wire."
"But the car ran well at first."
"Sure. The coil drew too much current, but
gave a good hot spark - until that extra juice burned the points."
Emerson stood up. "I owe you more than I can
ever repay, Mr. Wilson. If I can ever do anything for you, please give
me the chance to do so."
Talk about big shots," murmured Stan as the car
"Who? Mr. Emerson?"
"Sure, he's the Supreme Court judge on those
racket trials in the county seat. And he wants to do something for you." "I don't remember breaking any laws lately,"
laughed Gus. "And anyway, I got this job without influence. In
fact, it was more a case of push than pull."