Gus Wilson looked up from a car radiator he
was working on to see the tall, trim figure of a state trooper standing in
the Model Garage shop doorway.
"Sergeant Jerry Corcoran," said Gus. "You
haven't been by in months. Where the devil you been keeping yourself?"
"Making the rounds as usual," replied the
trooper. "Only now I have to cover more miles and more cases-I'm driving a
radio car these days instead of a motorcycle."
"Well, glad you finally found some free time
to stop by for a chat."
"Sorry, Gus, but this is strictly an official
call," Jerry said, grimly.
Gus cocked his head quizzically as he held a
match to his pipe. "Can't remember that I've jumped any red lights or
knocked down any old ladies recently."
Jerry Corcoran laughed. "No, Gus, it's got
nothing to do with you personally, but I think you and some of the other
merchants in town can help me if you will."
"Sure thing. What's up?"
Stolen Money Traced to Garage
"Remember that big bank robbery down in the
city early this summer?"
Gus nodded. He remembered it only too well.
At the time, the papers had been full of the story, telling how three men
had forced their way into the City National Bank one night, cracked open the
safe and made off with close to $80,000.
"Well," explained Jerry, "the Feds think that
job was masterminded by the same guy who's pulled at least four other big
hauls-all of them safe-cracking jobs. And what's more, the Feds have a hunch
he's hiding out around here."
"How come?" asked Gus.
"Some of the money has been turning up in the
daily deposits here at the bank-they know the serial numbers of most of the
stolen bills. As a matter of fact, Gus, several have turned up in the money
you've deposited in the last few weeks."
"In my deposits?"
"Don't worry, Gus," Jerry grinned, "but it
does mean that the guy we're looking for may be one of your customers. Been
working on any strange cars lately?"
No Clues to Go On
"Now look, Jerry," said Gus, "you know as
well as I do that all kinds of cars pull into a roadside garage.
People stop for gas, they want their oil
changed, they have a flat they want fixed. Sure, most of our business comes
from the townspeople, and we know most of them. But every day we service
dozens of cars we've never seen before."
"Yeah, I know," replied Jerry," and the heck
of it is that according to the flimsy descriptions we've got of this guy he
looks just about like everybody else-no distinguishing features-just a Joe
Doaks. All we're reasonably sure of is that he's about 40 years old and has
dark hair. We also know that he does a pretty good disappearing act between
"Not much to go on," said Gus.
"You're telling me?" Jerry groaned. "And he's
all mine-to find, that is. The captain put me in charge of the case this
morning. Said it would mean a citation, or maybe even a promotion, if I can
Gus and Stan Check Bills
For the next few weeks, Gus and Stan Hicks,
Gus's helper, paid close attention to all strangers who stopped at the Model
Garage. They were leery of all bills and checked them against the list of
serial numbers Jerry Corcoran had left with them. Luckily, the numbers fell
into sets of continuous sequences so checking was largely a matter of
More than once Stan or Gus thought they had a
suspect-judging from a driver's looks-but each time the number on the bill
failed to check and the suspect turned out to be no one more dangerous than
a road-weary salesman, a casual tourist, or a visitor in town on legitimate
But Gus and Stan continued to be suspicious
of every driver of a strange car. Gus was in the garage office late one
afternoon making change for Stan when he heard a car drive into the adjacent
repair shop. Looking out through the open office door, he saw a blue pickup
truck ease to a stop beside the repair bench.
"Never saw this truck before," Gus thought as
he walked toward it.
Just then, the door popped open and a
dark-haired man wearing a bright plaid lumber jacket stepped out.
New Truck Is Just False Alarm
"Don Thatch," Gus called when he realized
that the driver was the owner of the local sawmill and our biggest
lumberyard. "That truck had me guessing for a moment. Didn't recognize it."
"It's new; bought it about six weeks ago,"
said Thatch. "Had to do something. That old one was falling apart."
"Satisfied with this one?" asked Gus.
"Pretty much," Thatch replied. "Right now,
it's about ready for the final checkup and I'm hoping you'll be willing to
give it a going over. It'll save me a long trip into the agency in the
"Do what we can," said Gus. "Any particular
"Well, she's uneven as the devil when she's
idling, but I know you'll take care of that. When can I have it?"
"Well, I'm near ready to close now. How about
around noon tomorrow?"
"Swell, I'll have one of my men pick it up.
Oh, by the way, could you stop out at the mill someday soon? One of the
straddle trucks we use for hauling lumber is giving us trouble. The driver
claims it's got a bad miss but the new handyman-mechanic claims there's
Gus thought for a moment. "Tell you what, if
we're not too jammed up here tomorrow afternoon when your man comes I'll
ride back out with him."
Gus Meets an Odd Character
When Don Thatch's man showed up shortly after
noon the next day, the pickup truck was ready and waiting.
"You riding back with me?" the man grunted.
"That's right. Understand Don's been having
some trouble with one of his straddlers."
"Wouldn't know," the man grumbled as he raced
the truck's engine impatiently.
The ride to the mill was made mostly in
one-sided silence. Gus tried to make conversation, but when he found that
all he could get out of the man were grunts, he gave up.
Don Thatch was just coming out of the door
when the pickup pulled up in front of the mill office. "Glad you could make
it, Gus," he said. "That straddle truck I told you about is parked over in
front of the repair shop. Let's go around."
Driver Bears Watching
"Odd sort of character you've got driving
your pickup," said Gus as he followed Thatch around the corner of the office
building. "Does he ever say anything?"
"Don't know much about him," said Thatch.
"Hasn't been on the payroll very long. Keeps pretty much to himself. Good
worker, though, so I can't kick."
As they walked along, Gus made a mental note
to let Jerry Corcoran know about the pickup driver.
The repair shack was a squat two-story affair
and parked beside it was the big orange beetlelike truck with its engine and
driver's seat perched high up on the four stiltlike legs that rolled on
Don stuck his head inside the door of the
building. "Ned," he called, "will you come out here for a minute?"
"Meet Gus Wilson, Ned," Thatch said as a
wiry, fair-haired man joined them. Then he added, "Well, I'll be getting
along and see if I can locate the driver."
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Wilson," the fellow
grinned as he rubbed his hands on the leather welder's apron he was wearing.
"Mr. Thatch tell you about this straddle truck?"
Gus shook his head.
"Well, between you and me, I don't think
there's anything wrong with it," explained Ned. "Runs fine for me, but every
time Frank-he's the driver-takes her out for a day in the yard, he brings
her back howlin' a blue streak and tellin' me that she's got a bad miss."
"What does he claim it does, start to miss
after it's warmed up?" inquired Gus.
Engine Runs Fine
"No, he claims it begins to miss just as soon
as he gets to pushing her at all. You know these straddles take a lot of
punishment-lots of lugging and lots of idling every day."
"Mind if I have a look at the engine?" asked
"Help yourself," replied Ned. "I've got other
work to do."
So as Gus climbed up on top of the straddle
truck and opened the hood, Ned disappeared into his shop and presently Gus
could hear the noisy hiss of an acetylene torch.
Gus's first hunch was fouled plugs caused by
so much idling. However, when he took out several of the plugs he found them
fairly clean. Replacing the plugs, he climbed around to the driver's seat,
turned the ignition switch, and hit the starter button. The engine didn't
catch immediately, but when it did it ran smoothly. Although he'd never
driven a straddler before, he wheeled it around the space in front of the
shop several times. He thought the engine sounded pretty good.
Now Engine Misses
Just at that point, Gus noticed a young man
approaching the shop.
"You Mr. Wilson?" he called to Gus. "Mr.
Thatch told me to see you. I'm the driver of that truck."
Gus flipped off the ignition. "Understand
this animated doodlebug has been giving you trouble," he called down.
"You can say that again. Got a bad miss, but
I can't convince this dumb mechanic of ours. Here, I'll show you." He
climbed up, closed the hood and slid into the driver's seat. "We'll drive
her up to the yard and pick up a few boards."
Even without a load, Gus could now detect a
loss of power. "Mind if I drive?" he asked when they had reached the yard.
"Sure thing," said Frank.
Gus put the truck through its paces. There
was no doubt about there being a bad miss every time he pushed hard on the
"See what I mean, Mr. Wilson?" said Frank.
"But that grease monkey we've got won't believe me, and he won't take the
truck out himself and test it."
Gus Straddles a Straddle
Gus didn't answer. He was too busy trying to
work out in his mind just why the engine missed now but hadn't missed
before. Sliding out of the driver's seat, he opened the carburetor and the
connections to the coil and the spark plugs. Everything checked out.
"Start her up, will you, Frank?" Gus called
from beside the open hood.
Frank complied and again the engine took hold
easily and purred along. For the next fifteen minutes, Gus peered under the
open hood while Frank maneuvered the big straddle around the mill yard,
picking up lumber, backing, idling, and gunning the engine.
Again there wasn't a hint of a miss. She was
hitting on all six.
"Cut it," called Gus, and he just sat there
staring at the temperamental engine. Suddenly he reached up and slowly
closed the hood. Then he raised it, pulled it down and raised it again.
Ned Loses a Bet
"Humph," he said, digging into his left
coverall pocket for his friction tape. Then he proceeded to wrap tape around
the bundle of ignition wires that sprouted from the top of the distributor.
"All right, now let's try her again."
This time the engine ran smoothly no matter
what Frank did.
"That's got it," said Gus.
"What?" asked Frank.
"Come up here," said Gus. He pointed to a
worn shiny spot on the underside of the hood. "The distributor wires were
rubbing against the hood when it was closed. Pinprick leaks in the
insulation were shorting out some of the cylinders when the wires touched
"Ha, wait'll you hear Ned howl when he hears
this," said Frank as he wheeled the straddle truck around and headed for the
repair shop. "This'll burn him."
"Why," asked Gus.
Ever since he heard you were coming out, he's
had a 10-buck bet with me that you wouldn't find any miss anymore than he
could. Now he'll have to pay off and he ain't gonna like it."
Ned, paid off without a beef.
"Like found money," said Frank taking the two
fives Ned handed him. "Here, Mr. Wilson, let me split it with you," he
added, thrusting one of the bills in Gus's hand. "After all you found the
Gus, slightly flustered, stood holding the
bill for a moment, then handed it back. "No, Frank, that was your bet not
A few minutes later as Gus started up the
steps to the mill office to find Don Thatch, he bumped smack into the pickup
driver coming down. He greeted Gus with a pleasant smile as the two passed.
After Gus had told Don about fixing the
straddle truck, he said, "What's happened to your pickup driver? Met him as
I was coming in and he was almost human."
"Oh, I called him in to bawl him out about
his attitude," explained Thatch. "but before I could say much he apologized
for being rude to you. Said he'd had a spat with his wife this morning but
he'd try to leave his troubles at home after this."
"Well, I'm ready to get back to the Model
Garage any time now," said Gus. "Mind if I use your phone?"
Gus's Hunch Pays Off
"Go right ahead," said Thatch. Use that one
over there; it's an outside line. I'll get my car and meet you out front."
Gus grinned as he read the bold, black
headlines that streamered across the local paper next morning:
STATE POLICE NAB
ALLEGED BANK ROBBER
And the story went on to say:
...After searching the premises and finding more than $30,000 in bills
stolen from the City National Bank four months ago, a State Police raiding
party headed by Sergeant Jerry Corcoran from the local barracks cornered Art
King alias Ned Hoffman in his quarters at the Empire Lumber Mill last
night. King, police believe never spent the hot money himself but passed it
off to others by changing the bills at the mill office and by asking fellow
workers to do his shopping...
The slam of the garage door interrupted Gus's
reading. He turned to find Jerry Corcoran and Captain Torrance, commander
of the barracks.
"Okay, private eye," joked Jerry, "how'd you
They All Slip Sometimes
"Well, even though I'm not married," said
Gus, "I guess I've been around enough to spot a bleached blond when I see
one. Poor old Ned had been neglecting to touch up part of his hair. Then I
discovered that he sure was no mechanic, but loved to play around with a
torch. The tip-off came when he settled a bet with one of the other mill
hands. Just by luck, I got to look at one of the bills and the serial
number matched the list. That, plus the fact that he hadn't worked at the
mill long and lived by himself over his shop seemed to add up to a fair
hunch. That's when I called you, Jerry."
"Gus," said Captain Torrance, "during the 25
years you've been running this garage you've been a tremendous help to us
many times and we'd like you to know how much we appreciate it." Torrance
straightened, and a note of formality came into his voice. "We at the State
Police hope you'll accept this slight token."
Gus opened the small brown leather wallet the
captain handed him. Pinned inside was a gold badge with the shield of our
state and inscribed: "Honorary Captain-State Police."