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November 1948

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TROUBLE COMES DOUBLE

by Martin Bunn 

But some people, Gus Wilson believes, deserve it.

Especially if they neglect their cars and likewise play practical jokes .

It was getting close to four o'clock and Gus Wilson, who had been busy all day, admitted to his Model Garage partner Joe Clark that he was just a little bored.

"Plenty of work," he told him, "but it's all run-of-the-mine keep-'em-rolling jobs."

"Yeah," Joe said scornfully, "I know just the kind of job you'd like to have someone bring in here - something you could spend an hour fooling with, and then charge the customer for ten minutes; time and a quarter's worth of materials.   You ought to be running an experimental laboratory, not what's supposed to be a money-making business!"

Gus grinned at his partner, "Speaking of money-making business," he said, "someone's been honking his horn out at the pump for the last couple of minutes.  You'd better get out there and collect his pennies!"

Joe growled something under his breath and hurried out.  But after a minute or two he stuck his head in at the open shop door, and Gus was astonished to see that there was an expression of something that looked like awe on his bespectacled face.

"Ps-st!" Joe warned.  "Come on out here - step on it!  That fellow at the pump asked for some water, and when Wally gave him a can of it he emptied it into his gas tank.  Then he dropped in three yellow tablets.  And then he asked me could he use the phone.  He's in the office now.  Hurry up out here and see what happens when he tries to start his engine.  By golly, if it runs on those tablets it means that he's found out how to beat the gas shortage and there'll be millions of bucks in it!"

Gus didn't waste any time in getting out to the pump.  Wally, his mouth gaping open, was staring at a sedan with Colorado tags - a car which looked as if it had been driven plenty hard and which apparently hadn't been washed since the day it had been driven off the dealer's floor.   A tall, thin man with stooped shoulders and a wide-brimmed felt hat shading a long, solemn face came out office.  He started to get into the car, changed his mind, and asked Wally for some more water.  When the grease-monkey gave it to him he emptied it carefully into his gasoline tank..  Then he took a small tin box out of his pocket, extracted three large yellowish tablets from it, dropped them into the gas tank, and screwed on the cap.   Then he got into the car and stepped on the starter.  The engine took off at once.  It pinged and it seemed sluggish - but it kept on running.

The solemn-faced man looked over at Gus and Joe.  "Thanks, gents," he said.  "Thought I might as well fill her up while I was at it - it don't cost any more, and now I won't have to stop for gas for a couple of days."

"Hey, mister," wide-eyed Wally gasped, "do those pills you put in your gas tank really run your motor?"

 "She runs, don't she?" the man in the car demanded.  "That's good enough proof, ain't it?"

"Where can you buy 'em - those gas-pills?" breathless Wally wanted to know.

"I ain't put 'em on the market yet," the man told him.  "But I'll tell you how you can make some.  You take..."

"Wait a minute, mister, will you?" Joe cut in.  "Just wait until I get a pencil and a piece of paper!"

He started for the office door, but Gus caught his arm.  "Don't bother, Joe," he said, and turned to the thin man.   "Same old Bill Osgood, aren't you?   As big a kidder as you were out in Cripple Creek 20 years ago.  How's that mine of yours doing?"

Osgood's solemn face crinkled into a hundred deep wrinkles as he laughed and shoved out a skinny hand.  "I knew you the minute I set eyes on you, you old buzzard!" he told Gus.  "But I didn't think you'd recognize me, so I thought I'd put one over on you before I told you who I was - just for the sake of old times.  My ol' mine's doin' right good - so good I can take off all the time I want to.  That's how come I'm in these parts.  I'm visitin' my daughter and son-in-law up the road a piece."

Gus jerked a thumb toward the battered car.  "What's the gag this time?"

"Jest a laugh-getter, that's all," Osgood explained.  "Folks out east here are too danged serious for me.  I like a joke.  Boy, those gas-pills of mine leave 'em gaspin' when I drive away.  A couple of days ago I got in a little smash-up, and it sprung a leak in my gas tank.  Hearin' everyone talkin' about the gas shortage gave a big idea, so instead of getting' my tank fixed I had an old one rigged up in the baggage compartment.  Then I bought me a box of cough lozenges, and ever since then I've been workin' this gas-pill stunt for all its worth - and maybe a lot of you wise-guy Easterners ain't fallen for it.  But, first off, I come in here on business - feller down at the station told me it was a good place to have a job done.  I'm havin' a little trouble with my brakes - the brake fluid's getting' away somehow, I guess.  That's how I come to get in that little smash-up."

"What's this - another of your fool jokes?" Gus demanded suspiciously.

"No, sir!"  Osgood proclaimed loudly.

"All right," Gus said.  "But just remember that we're charging you for time from this minute on.  Drive that bus of yours into the shop, will you?"

Osgood drove into the shop, and Gus noticed that he stopped his car by pulling on the hand brake.  "How long is it since you've had anything done to your brakes?" he asked.

"Ain't never had anything done to 'em except adjust 'em once or twice," Osgood said.  "Ain't never had any trouble with 'em until the last couple of weeks."

He got out of the car, produced two cigars from a vest pocket, and held them out to Gus.  "Have a see-gar," he invited.

Gus shook his head.  "Those trick-shop cigars of yours were a stale joke 20 years ago," he declined scornfully.  Osgood grinned and put the phony cigars back in his pocket.

Gus got into the car and stepped on the brake pedal.  It went right down to the floorboard.  "You're right about losing brake fluid," he said.  "You've lost so much that there's mighty little, if any, left in the system.  Have you been using your hand brake altogether?"

"What's wrong with a good hand brake?" Osgood demanded.

"Someday you're going to drive yourself right into a graveyard," Gus said grimly.  "Worse than that, you're going to drive some people who aren't as big fools as you are into one.  A man who drives a car with brakes as bad as these ought to have his license taken away from him!  He's a public menace!

Well, let's find out where that fluid is getting away."

"That front wheel's been sort of wet lately," Osgood suggested.  "Looks to me like the fluid is leaking out past its brake drum."

Gus got down on hands and knees to examine the left front wheel.  "Yes, that looks and feels like brake fluid," he said.

He pulled off the wheel and examined the brake mechanism. Then he whistled.

"Well, what about it?" Osgood inquired.  "You're a wonder - a real wonder," Gus told him.  "You're undoubtedly the world's worst automobile driver.   You've done something which, so far as I've ever heard, no one else ever has been fool enough to do.  You're so bad you're remarkable!"

Osgood seemed to feel flattered by this caustic tribute.  "That so?" he said.  "What did I do?"

"You wore all the lining off your brake shoes," Gus said.  "Then you went on using your brakes with the shoes bare. That wore down the shoes.  Now, by golly, the shoes are gone, except for the inside reinforcing ring.  You've let the pistons right out of the wheel cylinders - and all the brake fluid out of the system."

Osgood grinned.  "Say, I made a right good job of it, didn't I?" he remarked with satisfaction. 

"Well, you better fix things up, Gus - all four brakes, while you're at it.  And there's something else on this car that ain't working just right."

"There would be," Gus said.  "Trouble comes double to a driver like you.  What's your other grief?"

Osgood got in the car and started the engine.  "Listen to that danged motor," he said.  "What's the matter with it?  It oughtn't to run thataway."

"It certainly shouldn't," Gus said, "but the way you manhandle a car, I don't wonder that it does.  Probably it is something wrong with your distributor that is making the engine miss."

"That's right," Osgood said.  "By gum, I jest remembered something.  A few days ago my motor got to missing pretty bad, so I stopped in at a service station to see what was the matter with it.  The feller said that my rotor was worn.  He didn't have a new one that he could put in, so he fixed it up somehow with a little solder, and told me that I should get a new one first chance I had.

"Well, I drove away, the motor ran all right for a while.  Then I hit a rough spot in the road, and the motor stopped.  No juice.  I got out and fooled around with the distributor for a while - didn't really do anything to it, because I didn't know anything about it - and when I got in and stepped on the starter the motor ran all right.

"Next day when I was on that grade crossing out on the dirt road over east of here, the same danged thing happened.  This time a feller came along in a truck and pushed me off the tracks and down the road to a little hick garage.  The feller there said I had a short in my terminal box, and he'd fix it.  Since then the motor's been missing pretty bad, but it ain't laid down on me, and until jest now I'd plumb forgot about the new rotor the first feller said I should get.  You better put one in."

Gus took off the distributor cap and examined the rotor.  "Yes, you need a new one," he said.  "But the rotor isn't what stalled your engine when you hit those bumps in the road.  Where was that soldering job that first mechanic did for you?  I don't see any signs of it - yes, here's where it was."  He grinned.  "Did you try any of your tricks on that fellow?"

"Tricks?" Osgood said.  "Well, I did give him a seegar.  It made him sort of sore."

"Maybe it was just chance," Gus said.

"That drop of solder got down into the distributor, and when you hit those rough spots it jounced around and shorted your juice.  Then when you turned off the switch it dropped back out of the way."

"If he did that on purpose it was a mighty dirty trick!"  Osgood said virtuously.  "Tell you what let's do, Gus.  You put that wheel back on so as I can get home to supper, and tomorrow morning I'll bring my car in and you can fix her."

Gus heard a familiar voice out at the gas pump.  He took Osgood by the arm and led him to the shop door.  State Trooper Jerry Corcoran was filling his motorcycle's gas tank.   "See that cop, you public menace?" Gus said.  "Well, I'll put that wheel back on if you say so, but if you drive that jalopy of yours out of here before those brakes are fixed, before you have gone three blocks that cop will stop you and inspect them, and you'll lose your license sure as the Good Lord made little green apples!"

Osgood looked at Gus and saw that he wasn't joking.  "Oh, all right," he said. 

"I'll leave the car here - but how am I going to get home?  It's a good three miles from here.  Can I get a taxi?"

"Not under an hour - this time of day.  You can walk.  It's tough," Gus said without sympathy.  "But you know what I told you - trouble comes double!"

END

 

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