"Hide the chips, Boss. It's a raid!"
sang out Stan Hicks, looking through the open door of the Model Garage.
Gus Wilson rolled out from under a
car. "It's only Chief Eldon," he said. Probably come for a cup of my good
"In two cars?" asked Stan.
Scrambling up, Gus saw that behind the
chief's car stood a second squad car.
Sam Eldon unfolded his lanky body from
behind the wheel. His movements were slow but precise; and behind the
creased eyes - which, with his sagging jowls, always made Gus think of a
dolorous bloodhound - was a wide-awake alertness.
"On your toes, Gus," snapped the
chief. "This is official business."
"The kind I put in a bill for, and
wait a month for the village to pay?"
"Sorry about that, Gus. See what you
can do about this car they bought me last summer. Come December it was
saying, 'Who, me?' when I tried to boot it up fast, and dying any time I
started up from a stop with a hot engine."
"Must be a plainclothes police car,"
"Our mechanic," Eldon went on, "reset
the timing and the point dwell, and checked the automatic choke setting. At
first, that seemed to cure it.
Two weeks later it wouldn't even
start. We made the dealer tow it to his shop, where they put in new plugs,
points, condenser, rotor, and finally a new fuel pump. But it wouldn't hold
a steady 70 when I tried it. It accelerated, then slowed, then tried again.
Surging, is what you'd call it, I guess."
"Sounds like fuel trouble," said Gus
cautiously. "Was anything else done?"
"Sure. The dealer put on a new
carburetor. Now I carry this" - Eldon brought a small hammer from under the
seat - "to help start it by smacking the carburetor."
"Very scientific," said Gus drily.
"I'll see about it. Want some coffee?"
"No, thanks," replied Eldon. "I've got
to see about that Ron Akins kid; got his license back this week, and already
he's in trouble over another accident."
Gus shook his head. "Too bad. Ron was
too wild last year, when he lost out on that reckless-driving charge. But I
thought that license suspension straightened him out."
"Seems it didn't," snapped Eldon.
"I'll see you about my car this noon."
The engine of the chief's 1966 Ford
was still warm when Gus got in to move it out of the way. The starter
cranked briskly, but the engine failed to fire.
From what Eldon had said, Gus's first
guess was that the trouble might be percolating fuel. He held the throttle
wide open while cranking to empty the intake manifold. The engine still
Gus got out and checked the carburetor
vent rod, which should have bled off pressure, preventing percolation. The
rod setting was to specs, the automatic choke open, its overtravel correct.
In fact, the engine showed signs of competent care on the part of Ed Foyle,
the police mechanic. It was clean; the spark-plug porcelains glistened; the
power-steering hose and neoprene fuel line were neatly strapped together.
A hot spark jumped eagerly when Gus
held a spark-plug-cable end near the block and had Stan crank over the
engine. Gus replaced the cable.
Then, grinning wryly, he tapped the
carburetor bowl as Stan again turned the engine over.
With a sputter and a roar, it caught.
"Like you said, Boss," remarked Stan
as he got out. "That was real scientific."
Gus had just decided to blow out the
fuel line when Eldon strode in whistling.
"Not noon yet, Sam," Gus pointed out.
The chief waved a hand. "It's not
about my car. Is that coffee still hot?"
"Sure. Come along." Gus led the way.
In the office, Eldon, his
loose-jointed figure jackknifed into a chair, grasped a hot cup in both
hands and stared thoughtfully at the black fluid.
"The car Ron hit six months ago was
Russ Carter's. Not much damage, but it was plainly the kid's fault. For
sheer vindictiveness, Carter laid a charge of reckless driving and made it
stick. Last Monday the boy got his license back and started delivering for
Jamison, the druggist. Jamison's a tightwad and doesn't pay much, but it's
not every merchant who'd let a young fellow with a suspension record drive
"At eight this morning, Russ Carter
was stopped at the station light. Jamison's car came up behind and never
stopped. It hit Carter's hard enough to dent his bumper, and jolted Carter
enough to knock his hat off. When he saw who was driving, he yelled murder.
Now he's claiming that Ron hit him deliberately to get even. He wants to
charge vehicular assault."
"What evidence has he got?"
"The best," said Eldon. "It looks as
if young Akins recognized Carter's car and rammed him deliberately. The man
on traffic duty checked, and there wasn't a trace of skid marks to show
Akins even touched the brake."
"What does Ron say about it?"
"That he had the pedal to the floor,
but the brakes didn't hold. He says Jamison had warned him they were acting
up, but the druggist denies it.
Jamison is pretty huffy because we
impounded the car. I have to hold Akins, too, but haven't booked him yet.
"After we'd had the car towed to the
station," Eldon went on, "I tried the brakes myself. They held enough to
lock the wheels. Either Akins is lying, or those brakes hold some times and
not others. Could brakes really work like that?"
"Let's go find out," said Gus.
The police garage was dim and quiet.
Eldon went into the station house. By the time Gus had driven Jamison's old
car in from the yard and onto a lift, Eldon was back with Ron Akins.
"Okay, tell it to Gus Wilson," growled
Eldon, "and see if he swallows it."
"It's true, Mr. Wilson," said the boy.
"Old Jamison did tell me the brakes were tricky. I wasn't doing more than 25
when I saw Mr. Carter's car stopped half a block away. I stepped on the
brakes. When they didn't hold, I yanked up the emergency. But I knew it was
no good. I had the pedal right down, but nothing happened, except we hit."
Gus nodded and walked under the car.
One rear wheel showed traces of brake-fluid leakage around the drum. Gus ran
a trouble light along the brake line.
He stopped where it ran over the
rear-axle housing, and rubbed off some of the grime. Where it was clamped,
the line had evidently chafed and split. The dark stain of a big leak ran
down the housing.
Gus lowered the car.
"Get in, Ron. After the car is up
again, hold the pedal down hard."
The young man nodded, got in, and was
hoisted aloft. Gus beckoned for Eldon to come under the car, and pointed to
the split line. Fluid beaded the crack and dripped to the floor. Grabbing a
wheel, Gus tried unsuccessfully to turn it."
"The brakes seem to hold all right."
Taking a feeler gauge from his pocket, Gus unfolded a leaf and thrust it
into the crack. Fluid seeped onto his hand. He poked the gauge about, had to
dodge the thin, hard stream that squirted out. With one hand he grasped a
wheel. It turned.
"Proof enough, Sam?" he asked.
Stepping out from under the lift, Gus
waited for Eldon to get clear, then lowered it. The boy got out.
"Okay, it could have been like Akins
said. But why?" asked the chief.
"Because of the gooey, gummy crud in
the brake system," said Gus. "Jamison came to me once, hunting a bargain in
brake fluid. He probably found it somewhere else - he must have been using a
lot since that line split open. Under pressure, the split got bigger, while
the cheap fluid he was using gradually turned into muck.
"Most of the time, gummy deposits
plugged the leak and the brakes held. But when Ron hit them this morning,
the goo had moved. Suddenly, no brakes."
Eldon swore softly. "I'd have had to
book him if we hadn't found this. It's Jamison who should be in a cell."
Back in the Model Garage, Gus hauled
an air hose to the chief's car and detached the neoprene hose at the intake
side of the fuel pump. He looked at it thoughtfully. A minute later the
Later that afternoon Chief Eldon came
in. "I don't suppose a spade-thumbed mechanic like you has my car fixed
yet," he growled.
"Take it away," retorted Gus. "It's
keeping me from more important work."
"Akins is free," said Chief Eldon with
satisfaction. "Carter's suing Jamison. I leaned on him about operating a car
he knew to be unsafe. The boy keeps his job, and the car gets a brake
"Been pretty busy, for a cop."
"Yeah. I even put a voucher through
for your help, such as it was," returned Eldon equably. "How about my Ford?"
"Your boy Ed is too neat. He strapped
the flexible fuel line to the power hose."
"Sure. I thought it was fine."
"Right - until underhood heat shrank
that plastic strap he used. That strangled the line until the pump had a
hard time pulling gas through it, especially when you floorboarded it. When
you stopped with the engine hot, some gas boiled away and left a low level
in the bowl. With that constricted line, it took a while for cranking to
fill the bowl to normal level."
"Why did hammering the carb help?"
"It gained time for pump suction to
drag gas in. Maybe sometimes it splashed a little that was left in the bowl
into the main jet. Once the engine caught, it worked the pump fast enough to
get more fuel."
"Okay, put in your bill."
"No bill this time," Gus said. "All I
did was cut the plastic strap. I can afford to do that on the house - for