Gus folded the letter and put it back
in the envelope. He regarded Stan Hicks, his capable assistant, with a
"Man the battle stations!" he
announced. "Batten down the hatches. My sister's son is going to visit us
Stan, visibly shaken, sat down on an
oil drum. "You mean - Lister?"
"I remember his last visit," Stan said
with a tremor in his voice. "Does he still think he's a mechanical genius?"
"That was three years ago," Gus said.
"By now he's probably promoted
"He would be 18, now," Stan mused.
"Maybe he's outgrown all that."
Gus tapped the letter. "He's arriving
in a hot-rod he souped up himself, it says here."
"Why not tell your sister that you're
too busy and that Lister gets in the way?" Stan asked.
Gus sighed. "I wish I could, but I
just don't have the heart. She doesn't know how to handle him. Since his
father died, he's been even more of a problem. She says a visit with me
will be good for him - and for her. I can't turn her down."
"Too late, anyhow," Stan said, as a
shriek of tortured tires announced the arrival of a chopped-roof jalopy.
"Lister the Blister is with us."
An undersized youth with long hair
combed to a duck tail in the back oozed out of the heap and slouched toward
them. He glanced scornfully about the Model Garage. "This place is just as
crummy as ever. Looks like you could use me around here."
"Certainly can," Gus replied. "We
need somebody to change oil. Grease chassis and wash cars. We - "
"I don't mean that kind of work,"
Lister broke in. I want to work on engines. You ought to have some new
blood in your business. What do you say, Unk?"
"We'll see," Gus temporized. "If you
can prove yourself, we'll use you."
For the first two or three days, Gus's
nephew kept pretty much out of their hair. He did the routine jobs he was
asked to do without much complaining. Then one day Billy Wells came in for
a tune-up job.
"Want me to take care of it, Gus?"
Lister asked with a self-confident
"I'll handle it," Gus told him
shortly, wondering as he did if he were being quite fair to the boy.
"Needs a car wash," Billy said.
"Maybe you could - "
"A pleasure," Lister replied
sarcastically," "I'm working my way up in the business," he explained to
Billy. "After I've pulled them out of a couple of tough spots maybe they'll
believe I'm as good as they are."
After Gus had put in a new set of
points, a new condenser, four new spark plugs and adjusted the timing, he
turned the car over to Lister.
"And don't forget to clean out the
inside," he reminded the boy. "That goes with the wash."
"Yes, sir!" Lister was wearing an
Stan took Gus aside and murmured, "I
don't like it when he's agreeable."
"He can't do any harm just cleaning
the car," Gus protested. "Look at the way he's going over the front seat.
He's even getting after the dirt up under the dashboard."
Billy Wells called for his car that
afternoon and drove it away. Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang. Stan
took the call. As he listened, his face began turning red. He nodded a
couple of times and tried to say something, but the person on the other end
wouldn't let him. Finally he was able to get out: "Okay, Billy, okay.
We'll be right down to take care of it. Well, I'm sorry. Billy, I can't
imagine what happened. Yes. Right away."
He turned to Gus and Lister, who were
standing in the doorway.
"Billy Wells. Something wrong with
the tune-up job. Coughed and sputtered all the way home. Now it won't
Gus took a long puff on his pipe.
"Well, I'll be - "
Lister grabbed a wrench and headed for
"I'll take care of it," he called over
Stan hollered at him, "Wait up! Me or
Gus will take care of - "But with a screech of rubber, the jalopy took off
"What do you make of that?" Stan
"I'm not sure," Gus said thoughtfully.
In a few minutes Lister was back and
right behind him came Billy Wells, beaming. "Works like a charm, now," he
"That boy is a real wonder. Glad you
have him working for you."
When Billy had gone, Gus confronted
Lister. His face was serious. "What was the matter with Billy Wells' car?"
His nephew laughed.
"I just tightened a couple of nuts
here and there. That's all it needed. Ask the man if you don't believe
me. Your trouble," he continued, spurred on by victory, "is that you're
getting careless, Unk. You overlook the little things."
Jumping in his hot-rod, he drove off.
"Maybe I have been careless," Gus
replied, a funny look in his eye. "Think I'll just keep an eye out for
details a little more in the future."
The next morning Mrs. Chambers came in
to have her car's idling speed set up. After Gus had taken care of it, Mrs.
Chambers backed the car up to a pump and Lister filled her tank. He was
very busy and very attentive. When he was done, Mrs. Chambers handed him
Gus said, "You ring it up and bring
her the change." Lister looked surprised.
"Sure you trust me?" he asked.
"I trust you with the money," Gus
While the boy was inside, Gus walked
quickly to the back of Mrs. Chambers' car.
His practiced eye took in every
detail. Suddenly he saw something very wrong. He stooped down and in the
wink of an eye he had set it to rights. He looked up to see if Lister had
noticed, but the boy was intent upon making change at the register.
After Mrs. Chambers left, Gus filled
his pipe, lighted it and sat down on an oil drum. "Come over here, boy," he
called to Lister.
"I want to talk to you."
"I'm busy right now, Unk," Lister
replied. "I'll - "
An unaccustomed glint came into Gus's
eyes. Almost to his own surprise he heard himself roar, "Come here!"
"She's not going to call," Gus told
the boy evenly.
Lister flushed, caught off guard,
looked at the phone and then back at his uncle.
"Wh-what do you mean?" he stammered.
"I mean your little rescue act is off.
Mrs. Chambers is not going to stall
half a mile down the road."
"B-but I never - "
"Oh, yes you did. You counted on her
doing that because you stuffed a wad of cotton waste in her exhaust pipe."
"Why would I do that?"
"I'll tell you why!" Gus was having a
difficult time keeping his temper under control. "You knew that if the
exhaust pipe was blocked off, the exhaust gases would back up and cause the
motor to overheat. Then you would hop to her rescue and play boy genius
again. But it didn't work. I saw the wad of waste there and pulled it
Lister was combing his hair nervously.
"Stop that!" Gus exploded. The
defiance began to seep out of the boy. His hands hung limply at his side.
It was as though he were skewered on the point of his uncle's anger.
"Furthermore," Gus continued angrily, "I know what you did to Billy Wells'
car. You took off the terminal nut that holds the hot wire on the ammeter,
so the wire hung by a hair.
That made the ignition cut in and out.
When the lug fell off the terminal,
the engine wouldn't start. I called and asked him where you had worked."
Gus got up and paced the length of the
garage. At the far end he turned.
His voice was a little softer, but
still stern. "You know something boy? I think you would make a good
You know a lot more about engines than
I give you credit for. But I don't understand why you want to use your
knowledge to make trouble. Why, Lister?"
"Uncle Gus - "The boy struggled for
words, but they wouldn't come. He turned and ran for his jalopy. He took
off slowly - without the usual dash.
Stan Hicks pulled himself slowly out
from under a pickup truck. "Why that sniveling sneak," he exclaimed. "Good
thing you caught on to him when you did.
He might have ruined your business.
Well, I guess we've seen the last of him."
"Guess so," muttered Gus. All traces
of anger were gone. "I wish I could have done something for the kid."
The afternoon dragged on. Gus went
about his work listlessly. At closing time, as he was locking up the Model
Garage, Stan called, "look who's coming back."
Gus turned just as Lister drove up.
The boy got out and walked up to Gus.
"I know you're mad at me," he began
hesitantly. "I don't blame you. But I couldn't leave without - well,
without saying good-by."
"Good-by," Gus said awkwardly.
"I want to tell you something," Lister
continued doggedly. "You said something to me this afternoon that I'll
always remember. I don't mean the chewing out. I had that coming. But you
said I was a good mechanic. You know, Uncle Gus, that's the first time a
grownup had told me I was good for anything since my father died." He stuck
out his hand shyly. "Thanks, Uncle Gus."
Gus took the boy's hand. "Do you mean
"I sure do, Uncle Gus. It means a lot
if you think I'm a good mechanic."
Gus cleared his throat. "Say, Stan
Hicks is due for a vacation next week.
Would you like to take over for him?"
"Do you mean it?" Lister's face lit
up like a beacon.
"What do you say, Stan?" Gus asked.
"Okay by me."
"Just one thing, Lister," Gus said.
"You'll have to get that haircut."
Lister grinned. "It's a deal, Uncle
Gus! first thing in the morning!"