Tuesdays, during June and most of
July, are usually shorter than most days at the Model Garage. Gus
Wilson generally goes bass fishing on Wednesdays, so on Tuesdays he likes to
close shop fairly early so he can go home, get an early start in the
At about 6:30 on this
particular Tuesday, Stan Hicks was finishing up his last job for the day.
This, thought Stan, really would be an early evening.
That, as I say, was about 6:30.
At 6:31 Stan wasn't quite so sure. For at that moment, a blue sedan
with out-of-state license plates rolled through the open doors, came to a
stop in front of the greasing rack, and a tall, heavy-set man unlimbered
himself from behind the wheel.
"The boss here?" The tone
of the man's voice made it sound more like a command than a question.
Before Stan could answer, Gus
appeared from the rear of the shop. "Something we can do for you?" he
inquired. "We were just about to close up for the night."
"Yeah, I've got troubles," the
stranger grumbled jerking his thumb in the general direction of the car.
"Just a few miles outside town, the engine started to get hot and sputter.
Seemed to lose its power. Just when I'm in a hurry, too. Got no
time to waste. Think you can fix it for me right away?"
"We can try," Gus answered,
patting his hands with a wad of waste as he looked over both the car and the
driver. "Might take time, through to locate your trouble."
"But I said I was in a hurry!"
the stranger snapped. Then, as if a sudden evening breeze had cooled
him down a bit, he added.
"Okay, but step on it.
I'll get some chow. Is there a diner or lunchroom close by?"
After Gus had pointed the way
to Dan's Grille - that's one of Gus' favorite eating places - down on the
Square, and the man had left, Stan said. "Unpleasant jerk. Why
didn't you tell him to peddle his car, his troubles, and his ugly puss some
place else 'cause you want to go fishin?"
"A job's a job, Stan.
Besides, those fish will wait for me, they always do. You finish up
your job, while I'll see what I can do about tracking down the trouble
Gus slid into the driver's seat
and started the engine. Stan could see him checking the gauges on the
dash. Then he walked around to the front of the car and lifted the
hood. The V-8 engine looked particularly clean. Next, he
unscrewed the radiator cap.
"Water seems to be
circulating," Gus muttered to himself. "Might know it wouldn't be
something simple to put your finger on." He touched one of the
cylinder heads. It was considerably hotter than it should be.
Slowly and methodically, the
veteran garageman proceeded to check the normal things that are apt to cause
an engine to overheat and lose power - a shipping fan belt, wrong ignition
timing or mixture, poor spark plugs, even low oil level. Everything
seemed to be in fair shape. The timing was a little out, but not
enough to cause much trouble.
When Stan finished with the car
he'd been working on, he walked over to the blue sedan. Gus' head was
deep inside the hood. He had a trouble light and was going over the
"What's the matter, boss, this
car got you stumped?"
Gus straightened up and flicked
off the light. "There's more than one thing about this car that's got
me stumped," he answered.
What else is Wrong?
For a moment neither man spoke.
They both, just stood there thoughtfully looking down at the engine.
Gus was leaning over, his right hand resting on the nearest of the two hoses
that led from the tops of the cylinder heads to the top of the radiator.
Suddenly a big grin began to spread
across his face. He squeezed the hose with his fingers.
"If it had been a snake it
would have bitten me," Gus chuckled. "Stan, I think if you'll drain
the radiator and take off that right-hand hose you'll find our trouble.
While you're doing that," he added,
after a look at his watch. "I've got to make a phone call. If
you need me, just sing out."
Service with a Smile
That guy is just too good
natured, Stan thought as Gus disappeared into the garage office and closed
the door. Probably phoning Ed up at the lake to tell him he'll be late
tomorrow, and all on account of some out-of-towner who barges in here at the
last moment and wants on-the-spot service.
Stan took his time moving
another car from the drain hole and setting to the job. By the time
Gus came back, the last of the water was just dribbling out of the bottom of
the radiator and Stan was attacking the hose clamps with a screw driver.
"I'll have it off in a jiffy,"
When the hose popped loose, Gus
reached for it and began probing one of the open ends with his fingers. In
no time he had succeeded in pulling out
what looked like a cylinder of metal.
"Thermostat," Gus announced,
holding it up for Stan to see. "Or at least part of one.
There are two
thermostats in these V-8's, one mounted in each of the two water outlet
fittings that extend up from the cylinder heads. From the looks of
things, this one got badly rusted and came loose. Water pressure
forced it up into the radiator hose where it jammed and shut off most of the
water circulation to that bank of cylinders.
"See if we've got
a replacement in stock, Stan," Gus added. "I'll remove the water
outlet fitting and cut a new length of hose."
it didn't take them more than about twenty minutes to install a new
thermostat and the new length of hose. When they had finished, Gus
looked at his watch.
All This and Timing Too
"Our man won't have reached
dessert yet," Gus said. "Might as well do the job right and adjust the
timing while we're at it."
Stan, was just about to make
some comment about doing so much for a peevish stranger they'd probably
never see again when the office phone rang.
"I'll get it," Gus called as he
hurried toward the office door.
"Probably for me anyway."
Stan was fussing with the
timing when Gus came back out of the office. What he saw next was hard
to be believe. Gus picked up a cloth and began wiping the car down.
"Pretty dirty," Gus offered in
way of explanation. "Might just as well give it a good dusting while
we're waiting. Nothing like a little extra service for a friend."
"Friend?" Stan grunted.
"Why that guy wasn't even civil."
"Did seem that way," Gus
answered with a grin, as he went right on with his cleaning job, even to
spraying the windows and the windshield and wiping off the hub caps.
Best Is None Too Good
Stan couldn't figure out Gus's desire
to give so much extra service to someone who obviously was just a one-time
customer and a not-too-pleasant one at that. However, he'd worked for
the gray-haired mechanic long enough to know that he usually had a good
reason for just about everything he did.
Stan had just closed the car's
hood and was rolling the engine analyzer back to the bench when the bulky
stranger strode through the open doors.
"My car ready?" he barked as he
"Just finished with it," Gus
replied. "We had to put in one new thermostat and adjusted the timing.
That'll be $8.75 for labor and parts."
"What?" the man bellowed
belligerently, "$8.75? I didn't expect to have to pay for an engine
"Take it or leave it," Gus shot
"I'd sure like to leave it if I
could," the man continued to grumble. Then, reluctantly, he dug down
into his pocket pulled out a wad of bills, and peeled off a crisp, new ten.
"I haven't the time to argue. Give me my change and I'll get out of
"Did you just buy this car
secondhand?" Gus asked as he slowly counted out
"What business is that of
yours?" the fellow snapped.
"None, but it's plenty of
mine," put in a new voice.
As the man spun around, he
bumped smack into Sergeant Jerry Corcoran who had come quietly out of the
Quickly, the stranger made a
dart for the door only to tangle with Gus's out-thrust foot and go sprawling
on the floor, Jerry was on him almost before he hit.
"Nice work, Gus," Jerry said as
he snapped a handcuff on the man's wrist. "Wouldn't be surprised if we
find more than car snatching on this guy when we begin checking up. In
any case, he won't be around for awhile."
Stan just stood there
bewildered as Jerry led the stranger out the back door to a white squad car
where another trooper was waiting. Finally, he said, "Will you please
tell me what the devil this is all about? If you knew the car was hot
and the fellow was a crook, why did we do all that work?"
Gus laughed. "I just didn't
want Jim Fleming to have to pay for those repairs," he grinned.
"I still don't get it.
Who is Jim Fleming?" asked Stan.
"He's an old friend of mine,
and the owner of this car," Gus explained. "When Jim lived here in
town I used to see quite a lot of him. About a year ago, Jim and his
family had to move over to Brighten and I hadn't seen either Jim or his car
again until tonight.
Something Familiar Here
"It's funny, but the minute I
started working on that engine," Gus continued, "I had a feeling I'd worked
on it before. Then I happened to notice something - a welded brace on the
generator support. I remembered I'd done a job just like that on Jim's
car just before he'd left. So, I played a hunch. I made a note
of the motor number and put in a long-distance call to Jim. I had no idea
of his address, or whether he was still in Brighten, but the operator
located him for me.
"He didn't know whether his car
had been stolen or not. His wife had both the car and the license.
He hadn't the slightest idea of what the motor number was, that was on the
license. He said he'd try to locate his wife and call me back.
When he did call back, everything checked, including the motor number.
Seems his wife had parked the car in downtown Brighten and left the keys in
the ignition. When she discovered the car was gone, she went right to
the Brighten police without letting Jim know. They put a description
of the car and the license number on the police teletype, but our pal had
switched license plates.
"After I'd talked to Jim the
second time, I called the State Police Barracks and tipped off Jerry
Waiting at the Plate
"But," put in Stan, "how did
you know our friend wouldn't get back here ahead of time and mess up your
"Elementary, Dr. Watson," Gus
explained with a grin. "I just called Dan and told him to give our
customer the slowest service that Dan's Grille ever served up."
"Okay, Boss," Stan grinned.
"Tomorrow we'll have a new sign made. "Model Garage - Sherlock Wilson
Prop. - Auto Repairs and Crimes Solved."