Tree Shadows lay long in the late
afternoon sunlight as Gus Wilson swung the Model Garage tow truck into a
pleasant residential street. Two blocks farther on, Marlow Lane made a sharp
right turn and began to climb. A block after that, it came to a dead end.
There Gus pulled up just below the
driveway of the last house. Above the driveway, front wheels cramped against
the curb, stood a small convertible. A girl wearing slacks and a floppy
hair-do came down a long flight of steps, closely followed by a
"C'mon, Karen," he pleaded. "Just a
short hop to the malt shop."
The girl shook her head. "Hi, Mr.
Wilson," she said. "You sure were quick.
But it isn't my car this time; it's
Dad's, there in the drive. He wanted to go out for cigarettes, and it
wouldn't start. So I got them in mine. It's lots nicer to drive since you
relined the brakes."
The boy bent close to whisper urgently
in her ear. She shrugged her shoulder.
"Flake off, Eddie. I'm not allowed to
lend you my car and I'm all dated up for the dance Friday. Okay?"
The boy, a lanky figure in very tight
pants, glared at her, then at Gus.
"That your last word, Karen?"
"Do you want to have it in writing?"
The boy's face flushed darker. "You're
going to be sorry about this."
Gus, who had been busy taking out his
tool kit and helper battery, looked at the lad for a moment. Black eyes
Then the boy strode off down the
"You don't leave the keys in your car,
do you?" Gus asked the girl.
"Never. But I have to park it in the
street because we've only got the one garage. Don't worry about Eddie
Larkin. He's a drip, but harmless. Only why should I lend him my car, when
he's just smashed up his own? Or date him, when there are so many dreamier
Gus lugged tools and battery up the
short but very steep driveway, where a 1964 Chevelle stood nose down.
"We just had the garage floor
painted," the girl chattered on. "So Dad parked it here. He was afraid to
try to start the engine by coasting, he said, on account of having an
Gus turned the ignition key to
"start." There was a hard thud in the engine. He turned the key off and
opened the hood.
Battery, solenoid, and ground
connections were all tight, and the cables apparently in good shape. That
solid thud suggested two possibilities other than a poor starting circuit.
One was a stuck starter pinion. The other . . .
Gus pulled out the engine dipstick.
The oil level was at the full mark.
Full, with the car at this angle?
The thin fluid on the stick dripped
freely, and smelled of gasoline. Gus put the dipstick back and got out a
As he disconnected the fuel line at
the carburetor, gasoline flowed out. Gus plugged the line with a pencil
"Please call your father, Karen."
The girl scurried off. Gus removed a
spark plug. It came out dry. The second one oozed gas. Hastily Gus screwed
it back. A heavy-set, gray-haired man came out.
"Got the battery boosted already?"
"It isn't a weak battery, Mr. Bronson,
but hydrostatic lock. Watch this."
Holding a can under it, Gus removed
the loose plug. Fluid gushed into the can.
"There's probably that much gas in
three or four cylinders," explained Gus. "The starter can't turn the engine
over, because you can't compress a fluid as you can the normal air-fuel
"It was running fine two hours ago,"
protested Bronson. "When I stopped to fill up on the way home, it started
"Sure, but then you parked at this
steep angle," said Gus. "That put your full gas tank higher than the
carburetor. Maybe the float valve stuck open, or its seat is bad. Anyway,
the hydraulic head from the full tank was strong enough to lift the
fuel-pump check valves. Gas dribbled through, into the carburetor, then into
the cylinders with open valves, and the crankcase."
"Can you fix it tonight?" asked
Bronson. "I have appointments at three of our branches tomorrow. I need the
"If I tow it in now," mused Gus, "I
should have it back this evening."
Easing the car down into the street,
Gus hoisted it up behind the tow truck. In the Model Garage Stan Hicks, his
helper, drained out the gas-diluted oil.
Two other cylinders were partly
flooded. Gus drained them, blew in air to dry out any remaining gas, and
squirted oil into each cylinder to restore lubrication. Stan put fresh oil
in the crankcase.
At quitting time he left, while Gus
went out for a light supper. Returning to the shop, he removed the
four-barrel carburetor, which had two separate float systems. He wasn't
surprised to find a little gas in the primary float, and a groove on its arm
where it bore against the needle valve. Gus replaced the defective float and
installed new seats and needle valves in both systems. Then he made the
It was dark by the time Gus drove the
Chevelle out and road-tested it. Then he turned into Marlow Lane. Lights
glowed in its houses, but the last street lamp, well up the hill, left the
Bronson house shadowed. The convertible stood in the same spot as before.
Gus drove beyond it, turned, and parked behind the smaller car.
Once more Karen greeted him, this time
at the door. "Dad heard you come. He's calling a taxi to take you back."
At that moment a look of incredulous
horror transformed the girl's pretty face.
"Oh, no - no - it just can't . . ."
Swinging around, Gus followed her
transfixed stare. What he saw sent him flying down the long flight of steps.
But the convertible had too much of a start. When Gus hit the street, the
girl close behind, it was 30 feet away and gaining speed.
He pounded after it, stopped as Karen
clutched his arm.
"What's going to happen?" she gasped.
"It may run into a curb. We better
keep after it. Come on."
They ran on. Rolling surprisingly
straight, the car climbed the curb beyond the curve, and crashed into a
A scream rang out. A porch light went
on and people spilled from the house.
"It's Eddie! Looks like he's hurt,"
shouted a man's voice. "Call a doctor!"
A woman ran back into the house. As
Gus ran up, a stout, bald-headed man in shirt sleeves swung toward him.
"This your car?" he demanded.
"It's mine," cried Karen.
"Kid drivers! You the Bronson girl?"
"Yes. Oh, Eddie, I'm so sorry."
Beside the car, which was jammed into
the hedge, lay the boy Gus had met that afternoon, his body twisted, his
breath coming in harsh gasps.
"Don't touch him!" warned the big man.
A middle-aged woman ran out of the
house and sank down beside the boy. "Eddie, where does it hurt?"
Groans were the only answer. The woman
shuddered. "Oh, Eddie, if only you hadn't gone out to find that lighter!"
"How could it happen?" Karen sobbed to
Gus. "I left it in low gear, like Dad said, and put the brake on hard, too.
I know I did!
If - if Eddie doesn't get well, I'll
never drive again."
A big sedan with MD plates swept up to
the house. Gently, Gus led the girl off.
Her father met them at the house door
and glanced toward the curb.
"Where's your car, Karen?" he asked.
The girl ran past her father, tears
running down her face. Gus explained.
"You relined those brakes," said
Bronson. "Did the hand brake hold right?"
"It held fine," declared Gus.
"Or did you bump her car with mine
when you parked it?" pursued Bronson.
He walked down the steps. The
Chevelle's wheels were turned well into the curb.
"Sorry," muttered Bronson. "Guess I
better phone and report to the police."
"Wait," said Gus, starting downhill.
He flicked on the Chevelle's lights.
They illuminated a glistening object Gus had seen reflecting the distant
street lamp. It was a plastic bag, edges fluttering a little in the breeze.
Gus walked down and picked it up thoughtfully.
"Yes," he said, the bag limp in his
fingers. "Ask Chief Eldon to come here."
Sam Eldon made the scene in minutes.
More than an hour later, after Gus had
returned to the garage for his truck and towed the convertible back to it,
the office phone rang.
"Come to Bronson's," said Chief Eldon,
"so I can explain to everybody at once."
"I'll be there," agreed Gus.
He was surprised, on entering the
living room, to find Eddie Larkin present.
"I just drove Eddie back from the
hospital," said Eldon. "Thought you'd like to see he's okay, and hear what
he has to say."
The boy looked from Gus to a red-eyed
Karen, her anxious mother, and Bronson.
"Just that I'm sorry," he muttered.
"I'll pay for the damage. Can I go?"
Eldon nodded, and the boy walked out.
"You hit it, Gus," said Eldon as the
front door closed. "Eddie faked being hurt to pay Karen back for brushing
him off. He probably thought it would get him lots of attention from her
from now on. But when I told him what we knew, there in the hospital, he confessed the whole thing.
"He's an orphan, recently came to live
with his aunt and uncle. He hasn't adjusted to them very well as yet, they
told me. He's moody, so when he rushed out in the middle of a TV show,
saying he wanted to look for a lighter he'd lost, they weren't surprised.
Actually he'd been watching the street through a window. The moment he saw
the car roll under the street light, he ran out. When it crashed into the
hedge, he went into his act."
"But he couldn't have known the car
was going to run away," said Karen.
"He sure could," said Eldon. "He
rigged it. He'd gone out about an hour earlier. He came up here,
straightened the wheels, let the brake off, and put the shift in neutral."
"But you said he was in the house when
the car rolled down," Bronson objected.
Eldon grinned. "You tell it, Gus."
"He used a timer," explained Gus,
"cracked ice in a plastic bread bag, jammed in front of one wheel. When the
ice melted down enough, the car took off. What gave it away was the cold
water left in the bag."
Chief Eldon rose. "That winds it up,
unless you want to press charges. Eddie's folks will pay for the car
repairs, and they've promised to get the boy psychiatric help."
Eldon shook his long, heavy-jowled
head. "Beats me, but he told me he got the idea from seeing that ice-cube
trick on a TV murder show."
"What's more amazing," put in Bronson,
"is that Mr. Wilson caught on to it."
"What's amazing about it?" asked Gus
with a grin. "I saw the same show."