"Ten minutes? Mind it's no
more," grumbled Silas Barnstable.
"So I've heard," agreed Gus wryly.
"But working on that old wreck of
yours is selling time pretty cheap, Silas."
The town penny-pincher grunted.
"Look," Gus went on, "you're headed
for big repair bills with this antique of yours, and I don't want to hear
you squeal when one comes. Turn loose enough cash to get a good car.
You'll be doing yourself - and me - a favor."
Silas turned sharp little eyes on Gus.
"And you just happen to know of a car
for sale, hey? With a bit for Gus Wilson and the Model Garage, no
Gus snorted in disgust. "You
would figure it that way. Just sit and wait."
Ignoring Barnstable, Gus was busy at a
bench job when the shop door slammed.
"Ted Griswold!" he said in surprise.
"What brings you back, young fellow?"
The tall, dark young man grinned.
"More luck than merit, Gus. The insurance company promoted me to
district manager of our branch office here."
"Wonderful! Didn't take them
long to find out how good you are, did it? You even look like an
"Come off it, Gus," laughed Griswold.
"I'm the kid whose jalopy you used to
patch up free."
"No more. I'll charge you double
for all jobs on your Highbrow V-8."
"No kidding," Griswold said. "I
do need a good car in this job. Fact is, that's something I want to
ask you about."
"I don't sell cars, Ted, but we have
some honest dealers in town."
"Don't mean that. The man I'm
replacing is moving up in a big company job on the West Coast, flying out
tomorrow, and can't take his car. He'll sell his $1,000 equity for
only $600 if I finish the payments. It's an almost new hardtop with
only 6,000 miles on it."
Gus nodded. "I think I know it -
that'll be Ben Derringer's car."
"Right, and Derringer's sort of a
quick impatient chap. He said he'd hold the car until noon today, then
sell it to the first comer."
Gus looked at the shop clock.
"Past one now. Have you seen him?"
Griswold shook his head glumly.
"Train was late. I reached his
house at half past. The family's gone and neighbors told me he had
just left to drive up to his summer cottage for some clothing. But
nobody knows where his cottage is."
A shop chair squeaked as Barnstable
shuffled to his feet. "Time's up, Gus.
Can't wait while you stand jawing."
Seeing Stan Hicks, his young
assistant, drop the hood on Barnstable's car, Gus knew the oil-fouled plugs
had been cleaned. He scribbled a bill and gave it to Barnstable, who
counted the exact amount out of a cracked wallet. Thoughtfully Gus
watched his crankiest customer drive out.
"...thought you might know, from
working on his car," Griswold was saying.
Gus snapped out of a reverie.
"No, Ted, I think only the dealer has serviced that car. Did you check
the Hall of Records to find where Derringer's place is?"
"Can't. It's closed Saturdays.
I've asked all the realtors in town.
"Then see if you can find the gas
station where Derringer deals," suggested Gus. "They might know.
Cheer up - chances are he forgot he'd need the car to go upstate and counts
on selling it to you when he gets back tonight."
"Thanks, Gus. I'll try the
The following Monday, just as Gus was
thinking of lunch, an imperious horn sounded outside the big shop door, and
a moment later a sleek hardtop sedan swept into the garage. But as it
crested the concrete apron, Gus's sharp ears caught a dry clunk from beneath
"I see you got it, Ted - and it sure
is - "Congratulations froze on Gus's tongue as the car door opened and Silas
Barnstable stepped out.
"Well, don't stand there gaping,"
snapped the town's stingiest man. "Never seen an almost new car
"Yes, but never you in one," admitted
Gus. "Who did you rob, Silas?"
"I did make a good deal," said Silas,
rubbing his hands together. "Only 6,000 miles on it."
"Then this is Derringer's car."
"Was, Gus, I bought it legal."
A sense of outrage engulfed Gus.
"Legal! You heard Griswold
talking to me. You practically stole it from him!"
"Now that's pretty harsh language,
Gus," whined Barnstable. "I took your advice, got me a good car, I
knew where to find Derringer - his summer place is next to one I have a
"Well, you can take your car - and
your business - somewhere else."
The old man flinched.
"Now wait, Gus, I ain't set against
selling Griswold the car - if I can make a profit on it. But I already
had it back to the dealer, same as Derringer did, 'count of that scree-chunk
They said they put new shocks in for
Today they tightened the spring
shackles - made me pay for it, too."
"Still clunks, doesn't it? Maybe
you'll find this an expensive bargain."
A fine rivulet of sweat rolled down
Barnstable's bony nose. "Give it a road test at least, Gus."
Gus glared at him, then shrugged.
"Wait till I give Stan some orders."
Far back in the shop, Gus gave Stan
low-voiced instructions, then returned.
"When does it make that racket?" he
asked Barnstable, getting in.
"Any time I go up a driveway or hit a
dip in the road."
Gus put the automatic drive in reverse
and backed out. As the rear wheels climbed the apron slope, an
unnerving clunk briefly repeated when the car climbed down the outside.
Gus shook his head thoughtfully.
"Bad hey?" asked Barnstable.
Grim-lipped, Gus said nothing.
He drove slowly a block or two. When he coasted up a driveway slope to
make a U turn, there was no noise. But it occurred again on the Model
"What'll it cost?" asked Barnstable.
Gus shook his head. "The way you
feel about repair bills, Silas, I don't want to take on this job."
As he and Barnstable stepped from the
car, Ted Griswold sauntered up. "Hello, Gus. Came to tell you I
still need a car. This one for sale?"
Gus grunted, "If so, don't buy it."
Barnstable drew Gus away. "What
is it, Gus? A bum rear end, or is the automatic transmission shot?" he
"I'd rather the dealer told you,
No charge for the road test."
Gus walked off Barnstable hastily
looked about for Griswold. "Hey, young fellow. Want to buy this
"Hold it, Ted," warned Gus.
"I'll charge you just as much to repair it as I would Silas."
Griswold nodded, withdrew into
muttered conversation with Barnstable.
Ten minutes later, Barnstable shuffled
out. Griswold approached Gus, smiling.
"I saw Derringer that night; he'd
already sold it - for $550. I paid Barnstable $600."
Gus chuckled. "Leave it to Silas
to turn a profit somehow, every time!"
"Okay by me," said Griswold.
"it's a swell car - whatever's wrong with it. Is it the clunk I heard
when you drove in that scared him into selling?"
"Right. Sounds loudest in cars
having automatic transmissions, because even slight seepage of transmission
fluid at the rear seal can wash the lubricant out of the drive-shaft yoke."
"The splined and grooved coupling on
the front end of the drive shaft. When the car rides over a bump,
those splines slide in and out of matching grooves in the transmission.
Gus jounced the back of the car up and
down on its springs.
"Not a whisper now, or when you coast
over a rise or dip. But when the engine's pulling and drive torque
loads the splines, they bind and then break free with that noise you heard."
"So that's what outfoxed Barnstable.
And why Stan phoned me to come buy the car, no matter what you said about
"Sure. All I have to do is drop
the shaft and pack the splines with viscous grease."
Gus chewed his lips. "I didn't
tell Silas it was an expensive job; he just naturally thought so.
And after what he'd done, it seemed
only fair to let him. At that, it was a dirty trick, and I'm
going to tell him.
Since he made a few bucks, he can't
"Nor can I, and he's welcome to the
profit. You have my thanks, Gus."
"Save them, Ted. He overheard
you in my shop, and I missed the tip-off.
"To what he was going to try?"
"Sure. Silas gave me cast-iron
proof when he was in such a big rush to get out.
I should've guessed what he was up to
and warned you."
"But how could you know?"
"Because," said Gus, "that was the
first time Silas ever paid a bill of mine without an argument."