When the businessmen of our town get
behind George Knowles for mayor, the crowd at the Model Garage turned into
George had been one of the first
customers when Gus Wilson and Joe Clark opened their shop and, although he's
grown into a big shot since then, he's never fallen out of the habit of
dropping in a couple or times a week and sitting around with the boys.
George ran on an honest-government
platform, and mighty few people in town had any doubt about our needing a
lot more honesty in government than we'd been getting. Mayor Rufus P.
Betcher, who seemed to have a mortgage on the office is a politician of the
old school. He's a fat man with a pink-and-white complexion, and he wears
the last cutaway coat left in circulation in our neck of the woods.
Whenever he makes a speech, he starts off the same way. "My dear-r fr-riends," he says, "the gr-reat and glo-rious party I serve, however
humbly - " Then, seemingly overcome by emotion, he breaks off, pulls a big
white handkerchief out of the side pocket of his cutaway, gives it a flip in
the air, and blows his nose. After that, he opens up and really puts out
the old hokum.
It didn't take George Knowles long to
heat up the campaign. He carried the fight to Belcher by attacking the way
in which he had handed out contracts to henchmen, and - being an accountant
by profession - he talked figures that the Honorable Rufus wasn't able to
Syd Carpender, editor or our local
daily, was in the fight on Knowles' side, and the week before election he
had a bright idea. He arranged a big meeting for Saturday
evening, and invited the candidates to debate the issues. George was only
too glad to accept - he'd dug up some new evidence on Belcher's financial
juggling. The Honorable Rufus, who knew what he had uncovered and didn't
have any plausible answer, tried to side-step, but the Sentinel went after
him so hard he had to accept.
It was a real old-fashioned political
rally - prominent citizens trying to look at ease on the bunting-draped
platform, the town band playing its head off, and all the other trimmings.
Our Model Garage gang went in a body. Old Judge Keegan, the chairman of the
meeting, was in his place and George in his, but Belcher's seat was empty as
time for the debate arrived. There was a long wait, which the band filled
in by playing its loudest. We killed the time watching a pretty redhead
taking flash pictures or the local celebrities. None of us recognized her
until Stan Hicks, the Model Garage grease monkey, said she was Mary Manning,
who'd been his steady date in high school and whom Carpender had hired as
photographer-reporter on the Sentinel.
When Judge Keegan couldn't stall any
longer, he introduced George and told him to go ahead with his speech.
That wasn't so good for George. He'd
written out a speech and had worked in a lot of embarrassing questions.
Now he had to fling them at Belcher's
empty chair, and after awhile it got to be so much like watching a fellow
shadowbox that people had to laugh.
But George said what he had to say -
which was plenty.
A boy handed Judge Keegan a note.
When George finished, the judge got up and announced he'd received a
telephone message from Mayor Belcher saying that he was returning from a
trip and that he wasn't able to get back. There was nothing to do but close
the meeting. The Belcher people went home grinning.
Then when the Sentinel hit the street
on Monday, we got a big surprise. George's charges were on the front page
as we had expected, but so was Belcher's countercharge that his car had been
tampered with to keep him from answering.
He demanded a full investigation and
offered to submit his car for examination to an expert. Carpender named
Gus, and the examination was set for four o'clock that afternoon.
By a quarter to four there were at
least 100 people milling around in the Model Garage driveway and overflowing
into the shop. All our gang was there, and so were a lot of Belcher
people. Mary Manning, the Sentinel's redhead, had a camera slung around her
neck and a wad of copy paper in her hand, and she was busy on her story for
the extra Carpender was going to publish as soon as the examination was
On the dot of four, two cars came
slowly up the driveway, one towing the other.
Mayor Belcher got out of the towed car
and addressed Gus in a voice intended for the crowd. While hurrying back to
town Saturday evening, he said, he stopped at a roadside restaurant for a
hasty bite. When he returned to his car he noticed a man hurrying away from
it, but thought nothing of the incident and started up for the meeting.
After he had gone perhaps 100 yards,
the engine began to buck, and the next moment it went dead. He tried to
start several times - the car would run a short distance and then stop.
Very unwillingly he was forced to the conclusion that the failure of his car
to - er - function properly had resulted from the machinations of
unscrupulous political enemies determined to deny him the opportunity or
replying to the scurrilous charges they knew were to be made against him at
the meeting. He had his car towed home, and since then he had neither
driven nor touched it. Now - with a sweeping gesture - he turned it over to
Mr. Gus Wilson for what he hoped would be a fair and impartial examination.
Everyone crowded around as Gus got
into Belcher's car and stepped on the starter.
Nothing happened. Gus pulled out the
choke and tried again. This time the engine popped and started, ran a few
seconds sputtered, and stopped. Gus started it again and drove into the
shop. The crowd followed.
Aided by Stan Hicks, Gus went to
work. The ignition system tested O.K., the fuel line was clear, and the
carburetor seemed all right. Gus scratched his ear, and then started to
re-examine the fuel pump. He slipped off its filter bowl, looked at it, and
held it up for everyone to see.
"The reason the Mayor's car won't run
properly," he announced, "is that the gasket is missing from the fuel-pump
filter bowl. Without the proper seating for the filter bowl provided by the
gasket, air sucked into the fuel line kills the engine. It can be restarted
by using the choke as the increased suction draws some gas, but it soon dies
again. The gasket was, of course, removed by someone. Who that was, or
when or why he removed it, I have no way of knowing."
That started a dogfight, with
accusations flying back and forth like brickbats. Mary whispered to Stan,
and they went out. When they came back 15 minutes later,
the row was beginning to die down. Mary stepped up beside the Mayor and
urged him to say something.
One of his henchmen brought over a
chair, and Belcher climbed up on it. Mary backed away, got her camera
focused on him and her flashlight apparatus ready for action.
"My dear-r fr-riends," Belcher sounded
off, "the gr-reat and glo-rious party I serve, however humbly - "Then he
broke off as usual hauled his handkerchief out of his pocket, gave it a flip
- and flipped a filter-bowl gasket right into the crowd!
While it was still in the air, a flash
bulb flared and Mary's camera clicked. The instant the gasket hit the
floor, Syd Carpender pounced on it and yelled; "Here it is, folks - the
missing gasket that kept His Honor from attending the meeting. He had it in
his pocket all the time!"
The Sentinel's extra was on the street
late in the afternoon, and on the front page was a big picture of Mayor
Belcher flipping that gasket out of his handkerchief. Voters went to the
polls next day with the paper sticking out of their pockets and grins on
Knowles' headquarters were in the Park
House, and in the evening we all went there to hear the returns. There was
no doubt about the results - George won by a mile.
"It'll be great for the town," Gus
Wilson said. "But there's one thing I can't understand - why Belcher was
fool enough to carry that gasket around in his pocket!"
Mary had stopped at our table while
she waited to get a picture of George Knowles.
She smiled. "Stan and I had little to
do with that," she said. "When you found what was missing from our
ex-Mayor's car, Stan and I went to his garage. He found the gasket in a
workbench drawer, and I took it - and slipped it into Mr. Belcher's pocket
when I asked him to make a speech."