Barreling along on his way back to the Model Garage
that Saturday morning, Stan Hicks, Gus Wilson's right-hand man, yawned
contentedly as the wrecker's big engine hummed under his feet. Ahead a
car was stopped, and Stan's throttle foot lifted instinctively as he
Four men milled about the car's open trunk.
At the sound of the wrecker, they turned almost as one. When Stan was
still 50 yards away, they dropped the trunk lid.
It was an old gray sedan, with scabrous paint and
battered fenders. All four men were unshaven. A party of
hunters, Stan figured from upstate.
"Hi!" he called. "Need any help?"
Four pairs of eyes studied him coldly. "Not a
thing, son," said one man..
Annoyed by the "son," Stan nevertheless added: "if
you're out of gas, I've got a can with me."
A man with a bald head and hard blue eyes leaned on
a fender, one hand in his pocket.
He shook his head. "Got gas."
"Okay," said Stan. "Okay!"
He let in the clutch. Steady stares followed
him as he moved off.
"Friendly guys!" muttered Stan, and turned on the
radio the wrecker carried for highway and weather reports.
Music soon revived Stan's good spirits. But
10 minutes later it was interrupted by a breathless announcer.
"... The Bank of Evansville was broken into during
the night, police disclosed early today, and robbed of a sizable sum in cash
and negotiable securities. The exact loss was not revealed.
Prime suspects are four men who fled a diner when a
bulletin announcing the robbery came over the radio. Driving an old
car with a hopped-up engine, they escaped police in a 90-m.p.h. chase.
More news... "
"Holy smoke!" breathed Stan and bore down on the
throttle until he eased the wrecker slowly into the Model Garage.
"How did it go?" asked Gus.
"Okay," muttered Stan. But as he went out to
lock the gas pumps for one o'clock closing, his mind mulled over the highway
Should he tell the state police about it?
What did he have, after all? Four men in a rattletrap car - there'd be
plenty like them on the road this weekend. But few so downright
"Something on your mind, Stan?" asked Gus as he
came back inside.
"Sort of," said Stan. "But it's like a miss
in an engine - you can't be sure it's what you first think."
Stan left on foot, headed for the barber shop.
He was waiting for the corner light when a bus stopped across the street.
With a start Stan recognized the passenger getting off as the blue-eyed man
from the stalled car.
The stranger entered the Model Garage, his right
hand in his pocket.
Plagued by doubts, Stan stepped between two
buildings and waited. Five minutes later, Gus and the stranger came
out together - and entered the small restaurant down the street.
When they came out, Gus carried a big paper bag.
The man was empty handed, his right hand still ominously hidden.
They walked back to the garage and a minute later
Gus drove off in his well-tuned coupe, the stranger beside him.
As they turned the corner, Stan made a dive for his
elderly convertible. Retracing his road-call route, he caught up to
Gus in 10 minutes - just as the gray jalopy fell in behind the coupe.
But stood a mile farther on, the gray car's speed
fell off, dropping to 40, 30, and finally 20 miles per hour. Stan fell
back. When the two cars came to a full stop, he hastily swung off where a
shoulder of rock hid his car, got out, and looked ahead.
Five men, counting Gus, were huddled around the
trunk of the old car. It was too far to see what they were doing.
Then the trunk lid slammed, engines started up, and the cars were off.
Soon, both turned in at a stone gateway.
"The old Marlow house," mused Stan, driving past.
A hundred yards away he parked off the road, and cautiously approached the
In the yard, hidden from the road, were both cars.
"This," thought Stan, "is where anybody with sense
calls the cops."
Instead, he crouched behind a high hedge and peered
through. The car's trunk was open again. Four men were bustling
about it. Fascinated, Stan tried to ignore a small nagging worry.
But suddenly it hit him hard: four men, and one was Gus!
"Hold it, "a voice behind Stan barked. Stan
turned - to see the missing fifth man. "Now stand up and walk over to
The trunk was slammed shut as Stan walked over.
Four men glared at him, only Gus's eyes crinkling above a grin.
"Did you go to the police, Stan?"
"No, I - gosh, Gus, do you know these guys?
You helping them?"
"Told you a car was tailing us," put in a tall tow
"It's okay," said Gus. "He won't talk."
Dismayed, Stan looked at the grim men and the old
"It's not what you think, Stan," Gus said. "I
heard that news flash, too. But these fellows are no bank robbers.
Meet Tim Hendricks. He went to school with me
The bald, blue-eyed man extended his left hand.
"Bunged up my other pushing a wrench this morning," he said, taking a
bandaged fist from his pocket.
"Tim's a crackerjack machinist and a good practical
engineer. He runs a shop in East Hardwick. Does a lot of
experimental work," explained Gus. "Okay to show Stan?" he asked the
They nodded. Gus opened the trunk inside
gleamed the finned silvery bulk of an air-cooled engine.
"These fellows are test-driving a new aluminum
engine they designed and Tim put together, Stan. It's secret - still
not covered by patents."
"Makes us edgy," put in the man behind Stan,
holding nothing more lethal than a meerschaum pipe.
"Anyway, maybe we haven't anything to be secret
about. Engine's got a weird bug that has us stymied."
"It loses power," put in Tim. "Quits, then
cures itself after standing a bit. We didn't dare risk stalling in
town. But seeing the name on your wrecker reminded me how Gus could
lick hidden bugs so I brought him out."
"Along with cats," added Gus. "They worked
half the night tearing down the engine in a barn. Pitch in!" he ended,
lifting a stuffed paper bag onto the fender of the car.
While four tired men wolfed hamburgers and coffee,
Gus and Stan studied the strange V-six engine.
"Offset carburetor," muttered Gus.
"Could starve the end cylinders."
"It's set rich," explained Tow-Head around a
hamburger. "Maybe that's why we burn so much gas on starts."
Gus looked up sharply, "What sort of weather does
it conk out in?"
"Just like now, cold, wet days, not in that zero
spell last week."
"That was dry cold," said Gus. He loosened
the air-scoop clamp and started the engine. It galloped into life, ran
steadily, and gradually grew rough. Gus fingered the automatic choke.
"Nothing stuck there," he said, and motioned to
Stan to cut the engine. At once he lifted the scoop to peer into the
carburetor throat. Stan saw a glint of white deep in the venturi.
"Your new engine," announced Gus gravely, "has a
very old complaint - icing."
As Stan looked puzzled his boss explained.
"Air rushing through there expands on the other side.
Expansion cools it. If it's cold and wet to
begin with, the water freezes out and chokes the venturi."
"Carburetor icing!" cried one of the men.
"Gas-gulping starts, symptoms of over-choking, a mill that quits but runs
again after block heat melts the ice."
The tow-headed man nodded. "We muffed all the
clues! Got so wrapped up in new problems we forgot to check out old
"It's easy to fix, now we know," said Tim. "A
warm-air duct should help. Gus, you did it again."
"We're mighty grateful," added the fourth man.
"We'd begun to think this new engine was a lemon and we'd have to start all
"After a year's sweat and tears, too," groaned
"Luckily," said Gus, "things aren't always what we
think. And that reminds me, Stan, we heard a spot bulletin while
"They caught the bank robbers in the hopped up
"Flat-footed. Their car was hopped up all
right, but after that cop chase they got panicky. They forgot that it
wouldn't run without gas."