"Hey, boss, take a look!" Stan
Hicks called from the door of the Model Garage shop. "This is going to be
In spite of the lateness of the
season, the day had been still, hot, and sticky, as if a summer thunderstorm
ware brewing. Gus mopped his perspiring face and went over to the door to
look out. The late-afternoon sky had turned the color of tarnished brass
overhead, and to the west was a dense, black curtain.
"Boy! Ain't it a - " Stan
managed to get out before his voice was drowned in an car-splitting clap of
thunder that trailed away to sullen mutterings. In the dead silence it
left, the office telephone rang with jarring sharpness. Then Joe Clark
called crisply: "For you, Gus."
Gus went into the office and
picked up the instrument. The voice that answered was edged with conscious
"P.X. Jones speaking," it
announced. "My car is stalled. Send a competent mechanic immediately.
It makes Gus bristle to be
ordered around, especially by someone he doesn't know.
"Wait a minute," he replied with
some irritation. "Who are you, anyway?"
"P.X. Jones, I told you," the
voice repeated pompously. "The person who operates this establishment tells
me that you are trustworthy with cars. I must have mine back in running
condition at once."
"Where are you?" Gus demanded.
"Just a minute," and the man at
the other end of the wire paused. Then his voice came back. "They tell me
it's known as Lucy and Bill's. A sort of hamburger joint."
"I know the place," Gus assured
"When this storm that's coming
up is over, I'll be right out to help you."
"Oh, I can't wait." P.X. Jones's
voice took on a pleading note. "This is really urgent. I have to get down
Before Gus could answer, a lurid
glare licked the office walls, and another bolt of lightning blasted open
the sky. The office phone went completely dead with the roar. Gus stared
at the silent receiver.
"Oh, well," he told himself, "it
could be as important as he says. Anyway I can't do more than get
"Here she comes," Joe said as
big rain-drops began to spatter the concrete apron at the gas pump. "She's
going to be a lulu."
Gus went back to the shop door.
"Get your slicker," he told Stan. "There's a car stalled at Lucy and Bill's
- a hurry-up job."
He got into the wrecker and
drove out of the shop. Stan closed the garage door and climbed in beside
him. The wind-driven rain streamed on the windshield faster than the blades
of the wipers could clear it off.
Gus switched on the parking
lights and drove cautiously through the storm. The highway ahead was a dim,
wavering gray ribbon except when the glare of lightning made the wind-bent
trees stand out vividly.
It took a full 15 minutes to
drive to the roadside eating and jukebox place run by Lucy and Bill, but by
the time the wrecker had reached it, the storm was about spent and the
western sky was beginning to lighten. The only car in the parking place was
an eight-year-old sedan. On the veranda were a pompous, walrus-mustached
individual in uniform and a short, sly-faced fellow. The uniform was
nothing Gus had ever seen before. It consisted of a brown tunic and
dark-green trousers topped by a military cap. An enameled emblem on the cap
looked to Gus like a fat pigeon with a sprig in its beak.
AS he and Stan walked up in the
lessening rain, the short fellow waved airily. "Tell them who you are,
Pixie," he suggested to Walrus, who was pacing up and down.
The mustached fellow took
something from a wallet and bowed from the waist.
"My card, sir," he said,
presenting an oblong pasteboard to Gus. Stan snickered, but Gus managed to
keep his face straight as he read: "The National Confederation for
International Harmony, P.X. Jones, Grand Harmonic Balancer."
P.X. Jones bowed stiffly again.
"At your service, sir," he said," and at the service of all suffering
"Well - er - thanks," Gus
muttered uncertainly. "Now, about your car.."
P.X. Jones gestured toward the
car. "Fix it, my good fellow," he ordered. "It's urgent. Much, depends
upon my reaching Washington without further delay."
The sly-faced man stopped Jones
as he started toward the sedan. "Hold on, Pixie," he said. "You can't
afford to get your uniform wet - you gotta wear it tomorrow."
Gus, grinning now in spite of
himself, asked: "What's the matter with your car?"
"We stopped here," Jones
explained, "on the insistence of Mr. Fundy, my public-relations expert, to
get a bite to eat. When we returned to my car - "
Fundy interrupted. "Don't
forget to tell him you left the motor running," he prompted. "When we got
back it had stalled."
Jones frowned, "My attention,"
he said, "was on matters of higher importance."
"Then the starter wouldn't turn
the motor over," Fundy cut in.
"My first thought," Jones went
on, "was that the starter had jammed - that had happened before. I put the
car into reverse, and Fundy and I pushed it forward. That freed the motor
so the starter would turn it over. But it scraped and squealed."
"Sounded like a couple of
tomcats under the hood," Fundy put in. "Scared old Pixie so bad he cut the
motor right away."
"I consulted the proprietor of
this place," Jones said with dignity. "He thought it was a broken piston or
crankshaft trouble and suggested to call you."
"Fix it as fast as you can, will
you?" Fundy requested. "We have to get out of Washington early enough
tomorrow to get back by evening."
"You won't have much time
there," Gus said.
"We don't need much time," Fundy
explained. "Anyway, Pixie's a night watchman, and he's got to get back on
the job by 6 o'clock. Tonight's his night off."
Jones turned an embarrassed red,
"My services to the Confederation," he explained, "bring me no financial
"Except your bite out of the
annual dues. And when you pass the hat at meetings," Fundy amended.
The Grand Harmonic Balancer let
that one go by. "There being no salary attached to my high office," he went
on as if he hadn't heard, "it is necessary that I earn my living otherwise.
I prefer to do it as a night watchman. Then I have ample time to reflect on
the tragic state of the world and to formulate plans for its betterment."
Gus's head was beginning to
spin. "Well, that's - er - dandy," he said soothingly. "Suppose we try
your starter again."
The rain had stopped while they
were talking, and they went out to the sedan. Its back seat was occupied by
a big camera and tripod. Pixie got in and stepped on the starter. After a
couple of attempts, the motor took hold, but from under the hood there came
a high-pitched, squealing racket. Pixie cut the ignition quickly.
Gus lifted the hood, and his eye
first caught the combined pulley and harmonic-balancer unit mounted under
"Wonder if Pixie took his
high-sounding title from that," he thought, "or if he even knows there's
such a thing on his car."
He had Pixie start up again, and
the motor ran with the same squealing noise, but this time it appeared to
Gus to be coming from the harmonic-balancer unit.
"Let her idle," he told Pixie
and watched as, after a few revolutions, the engine stalled.
Gus felt the fan belt and
inspected the generator closely. Grinning, he took the aluminum cover off
the balancer unit. A small bolt dropped down on the drip pan. "Get me a
wrench, Stan," he called to the Model Garage grease monkey. Then he
replaced the bolt under the generator, tightened it, and put back the cover
of the balancer unit. "Now try it," he told Pixie. The motor took off
promptly and ran smoothly.
Gus and Stan watched the sedan
drive away. "I wonder what Pixie's doing in Washington that's so
important," Gus said.
"Oh, I found that out - I asked
Fundy," Stan laughed. "He's going down to have his picture taken - wants it
on the steps of the Capitol, with the dome in the background, so he can use
it on posters to advertise his racket, Fundy says."
"Well, of all the... "Gus
exploded. "So that's why we took a wetting!"
"Fundy says he isn't sure if
Pixie is a grafter or a nut," Stan went on. "But he's getting paid thirty
bucks for the picture-taking job. Say, Boss, what was the matter with that
bus? You just looked under the hood and located the trouble right away."
"I didn't just look at the
engine - I listened to it, too," Gus reminded him. "Do you know what a
harmonic balancer is?"
"Why, sure I do," Stan said,
"They have them on cars, too,"
Gus grinned. "It's a gadget to neutralize torsional vibration of the
"Was that the thing you took the
cover off of when the bolt fell out?" Stan asked.
"But how did you know a bolt was
jammed in it?" Stan persisted.
"It sounded to me as if the
noise came from the balancer unit. I noticed that the fan belt was slack,
and when I felt the generator, it was loose on its mounting and a little out
of place. "Then I checked it and found the bolt that holds it at its swivel
point was missing."
"Oh," Stan said. "So you
figured the bolt had fallen into the - harmonic balancer."
"That was the tip-off," Gus went
on. "If the bolt had slipped down and got wedged between the balancer and
its cover, it might not actually look the motor, but it could jam it hard
enough to stall it when it was turning over faster. That was really what
happened. When I took the balancer cover off, the bolt fell out. All that
was left was to put it back in the right place."
"So with one harmonic balancer
back in working order," Stan grinned, "the other could go on harmonizing -
and getting his picture taken."