"Don't argue, mister. You're Gus
Wilson, and you're going to fix my car quick. I ain't got anything against
you personally, but get busy or you may get hurt."
"Suppose a customer comes in. Got
that figured out too?"
"Close the door and use your
Gus rolled down the door and
snapped on the small caged light. It cast a glow on the kid's sweat-shined
face. He couldn't be more than 17.
"And you expect me to work on this
car with that gun twitching in your hand?"
The kid looked down at the gun,
then shoved it in his pocket.
"Okay, but don't get any ideas. I
could shoot you before you took two steps."
"All right, suppose you tell me
what's wrong with the car."
"She misses, especially when you
step on the gas all of a sudden, like when you're getting away from a
light. Sometimes she runs perfect. Had her up to 75 easy just last night."
Gus Recalls Rainstorm
That stopped Gus. "You were
driving 75, miles an hour in that downpour?" He recalled the heavy
rainstorm that had kept him home all evening.
"Sure, why not?" the kid said with
a touch of bravado. "I can handle her in a skid."
"Uh-huh," said Gus. He lifted the
hood, reached down and removed the distributor cap. The rotor, points and
condenser seemed to be all right.
"You'll read it in the paper
tomorrow, I guess. Dill's Feed Store is missing 700 bucks. I worked for
old man Dill up to tonight. Sure, front page and pictures, so there's no
harm in telling you. Johnny Wentz missing, cash register robbed. But by
the time the cops find out, I'll be too far away...and you're coming with
"Where do you figure is 'too far
away' for the police?"
"Get to work and cut the gab!"
Gus said nothing. He cleaned and
gapped the V-8's plugs, and put them back. When he started the engine it
idled fast and a little rough, stalling when he set the idling speed
adjustment down a bit. Gus backed out the idling mixture screws slightly
and restarted the engine. The idle seemed better but she still bucked a
little when he pulled open the throttle rod.
Kid Tells Why He Took the Money
"Why did you do it? Old man Dill
paid you a salary."
"Chicken feed! Look, I've been on
my own since I was 12. I never had anything of my own until I saved up for
this car and these duds I got on. And I've been living in a cheap
boarding home. I want better clothes and a decent place to live!"
"And you think stealing is going to
make that dream come true? "Tell me, how are you going to enjoy these
things when you're constantly on the run?"
Johnny pointed to the engine, but
Gus knew his words had cut deep.
Gus looked over the carburetor for
anything that would plug the air or fuel supply or cause it to be
temporarily cut off during the surge of acceleration.
The carburetor was clean enough,
and Gus moved down a mental check list to the next suspect, the fuel pump.
While he dismantled the pump, he was aware of the kid fidgeting with growing
"What's taking so long?"
Gus ignored the question and looked
at the pump mechanism. The intake and outlet valves were not gummed up with
fuel deposits or tank additives. And the diaphragm edges weren't worn
enough to cause trouble.
"Can't find anything wrong," he
"Look, Wilson - " the kid's eyes
narrowed, "You're just stalling!"
The gun was out again, and the
kid's hand was no steadier than before.
"That pistol won't speed things up,
sonny, I can only work so fast."
Gus tried to get his mind off the
boy and concentrate on the car. He began looking for high voltage leaks
tracing the plug leads again, looking for bare wires, loose connections,
corrosion. He followed the line leading from the coil to the distributor.
Then he examined the ignition
connections in back of the dash. By now, he was satisfied that the trouble
was in the carburetion system. Something was starving the engine.
He crawled under the car with the
trouble light and traced the fuel line from tank to engine. The leak he
suspected was not there, and blowing the line failed to show any
obstruction. He turned to the kid.
Gus Defies the Kid's Gun
"Okay, pull that trigger if you're
going to, because I've gone as far as I can." Gus began walking
deliberately toward him.
Johnny Wentz stepped back, and the
gun he held wobbled in the dim light.
"No Johnny. I've had enough of
this nonsense. You're not going to shoot, because you just aren't the
Gus covered the last three feet in
one quick step and deftly removed the pistol from the boy's hand. Johnny
Wentz stared unbelievingly at Gus for a moment, and then broke into a fit of
sobbing. Gus led the boy to the car and made him sit down.
"Start driving," Gus said firmly.
'You're going to put that money back."
The boy moved the car into the
The engine did skip a little, Gus
noted professionally, as they pulled away. He pocketed the gun - no need
for that anymore.
"Suppose they catch me before I get
a chance to turn myself in, "the kid was saying.
"It's always better to turn
yourself in - I know that much. I guess you think I'm nothing but a stupid
little punk. But you know, I was glad when you took the gun, I was scared
"So was I," Gus said wryly, as
Johnny pulled up in front of Dill's without cutting the ignition. "I'll
You're on your own, Johnny."
"You're going to trust me? I could
run out on you."
"I don't think you will."
The boy walked slowly around to the
back Gus hoped he was doing the right thing. It was a gamble.
The rain had started up again. To
keep busy while he waited, Gus began tinkering with the windshield wiper.
He had a peculiar notion....
A few minutes later, the boy came
"A cop was looking around back in
the alley. I had to wait until he wasn't looking to crawl through the back
The money's in the register."
"Okay. Drive me back to the
garage, and then you go on home."
"What? I thought - Look I'm a - "
"Come on," said Gus, "let's go."
The kid wasn't a particularly good
driver during those few blocks back to the garage.
Gus covered the painful interlude by
telling him what he had found out about the car.
"Funny thing kid. It was your
windshield wiper. Kind of a joke really when a guy goes searching all over
creation for the answer and comes up with something like that! You see, the
flexible control cable from your dashboard button to the valve was clamped a
bit short. When you shoved in the button, it didn't shut the valve
completely. The wiper didn't run, but enough air was admitted to the vacuum
line to lean out your mixture. And since you already had it set on the lean
side, the leak caused a skip on acceleration. That's all there was to it.
I should have thought of it when you told me about the car running okay in
Johnny stopped in front of the
"Don't say anything kid. I know
how you feel. Just go home and forget about it. Forget about trying to
make all your dreams come true at once. It never happens that way. Take
your time and you'll get there - the right way."
Cop Waits in Garage
Gus stepped out of the car and
walked into the garage without turning around.
Inside he found a police car, and a
visitor, Billy Ryan, sitting on the work bench. Gus stared at the officer
"Hi Gus. "Thought I'd keep an eye
on things until you got back."
"Busy night?" Gus asked.
"No, nothing special. Some female
claims she saw someone forcing Dill's rear window.
But I didn't find anything."
"Forget it Gus. I saw it all after
the kid crawled back through that window. We'll give him another chance..."
"I don't think you'll regret it,"
"And here, you'd better take this
Billy climbed into his patrol car
and started up. He paused a minute to roll down the window. "You know, Gus
you'd have made a pretty good cop, at that."