Gus Trails a Hot Cargo
Trouble shooting was Guss stock in trade,
but chasing hijackers with Officer Ryan
wasnt the kind of trouble
or shooting, he had in mind.
Talk of the weather . . . there had been nothing else all that day. Over soda-fountain
counters, from behind desks, on the streets, it was talk of summer heat and the touch of
high mercury, the kind that softened asphalt and sent heat-ghosts dancing over the
sidewalks. It had even penetrated the usually cool depths of the Model Garage. Heat and
the Saturday rush had made it a long day for Gus Wilson, and when he stepped out into the
cooler embrace of evening, he was dead tired.
The thought of tomorrow, the one days respite, was nice, the treasure sitting at
the end of a long weeks work.
A voice punctured the daydream: "Hey, Gus!" Officer Billy Ryan of the local
police coasted up in his patrol car. "Got a minute?"
"What do you want, copper?" Gus ribbed him.
"Ive got this trouble with this machine!"
Gus eyed the aging automobile with mock disapproval. "What do you expect from a
"Its got a new motor! Besides, when are you taxpayers going to get me a new
one? Now listen--"
"Im tired, and Ive closed down. Wheres your police
"Hes sick in bed. Listen, Gus. Tonight I got a tip from the police down in
the city that some hijackers are going to pull a furcoat job with their truck near here a
couple of hours from now. East of town. And this cars liable to poop out and ruin
the whole setup!" Ryan was excited.
"Okay, calm down before you fade your hair. Whats the trouble?"
"The engine dies and the lights go out every time I put on the brakes. Even if I
just slow down. Have to come to a full stop to get started again."
Gus sighed. "Run her into the garage. I think youre shorting out
Gus rolled the doors back up and turned on the lights. He pried up the small inspection
plate in the floorboard of the old car and took a fast look.
The battery was brand-new, still shiny black. Gus raised the hood and checked the
wiring in the primary ignition circuit from that end. Still nothing.
He pulled on grease-stained coveralls and crawled under the car with a trouble light.
"Cant you hurry it up, Gus?"
"I hate to admit it, but I am hurrying. Shouldnt hurry with auto repairs.
Too many mistakes that way!"
The stoplight switch on the brake pedal, a common source of shorts, proved okay. Then
Gus checked the battery cable down by the brake arm. The action of the arm could wear the
insulation off and short the battery out every time the brake was used. But that was okay,
"How about the generator, Gus?"
Gus didnt answer, but in a moment, he crawled out looking puzzled.
"Generator, did you say? No, if that were the case, youd be running your
battery down. It wouldnt account for your engine dying. I cant find a thing.
You should have come in earlier!"
"I meant to, Gus, but they kept me tied up all afternoon. Safety lecture at the
high school. Then I got this tip from the big-town cops."
Gus checked the ignition and lighting wires, tracing them down to the firewall where
they passed through to the engine side. Then he climbed out and turned the light off with
a click of finality.
"Ill be darned. Well, lets take it for a ride."
Gus backed the car out and started down the street. The street lights were on now, and
a haze-yellow moon painted the tops of the low hills outside of town.
"Its a pretty good night for changing pumpkins to coaches, isnt it,
"Good for switching fur coats from one truck to another, you mean."
Gus drove to a quiet road east of town, out among small farms and country lanes that
were quietly beautiful in the moonlight. There, free of evening traffic, he punched the
brake pedal hard.
The front end dropped slightly, the engine quit and the lights flickered out. He had
come to a full stop.
"I see what you mean."
"What do you think it is, Gus?"
"Oh, its still a short somewhere. The problem is the somewhere! This
promises to be kind of tough with so little time to work in. How about the other police
car, why cant you use it?"
Ryans face reddened. "It was smacked by a hit-and-run. And George Weaver
didnt get the number. Everything happens to the department today!"
"How about letting the highway patrol take over?"
"Aw Gus, you know how it is . . . your pal, Sergeant Corcoran, would kid the pants
"Okay, Billy. Ill keep trying."
Gus hit the brake again, this time a little slower. The engine kept running for an instant
longer than before.
"I think we have something now. Once more."
He got into high gear, worked up to 40 miles an hour, and then put the brake on
gradually. They slowed down gently, and rolled to a full stop. Neither engine nor lights
"That settles it. Maybe a wire swinging against metal. If you slow down real easy,
the wire doesnt swing far enough to touch."
Gus got out and crawled under again. The breeze and roar of a truck going by at high
speed caught at his pants legs, and a split second later, Ryan let out a yell.
"Hey, get back in! I think that was the hijackers truck!"
Gus leaped back in, and Ryan started out with a squeal of rubber.
"Somethings gone haywire. Those birds are early!"
The small truck moved fast over the narrow road, its tail lights bobbing in the
Ryan switched off his headlights so that the truck driver wouldnt see them
follow, and Gus felt something tighten in his stomach. He hadnt bargained on getting
involved in a cops-and-robbers chase.
"What makes you think thats the hijackers?"
"The truck fits the descriptionand who else would be burning up the road
like that? If I can get close enough to see the license plate, I can be sure."
"Okay, what do we do now?"
"Catch them in the act of switching the load, I hope. You see, these fur coats are
taken by truck to a warehouse in Buffalo. They theyre distributed to stores. A
couple of the company drivers are working from the inside for the hijackers. Recently, one
of them was stopped, beat up to make it look real, and the furs trundled off in another
truck. And its nothing smallmink and stuff like that. One company driver
decided he didnt want to get in any deeper and tipped the police off to this second
jobthats how we got a description of the trucks and the license numbers."
"Im afraid to ask," put in Gus, "but where do we fit in?"
"Highway patrol cars are posted at several points beyond the mountains
ahead," continued Ryan, "but in the meantime, rather than scare them off with a
whole flock of patrol cars, we sneak in and try to get the drop on them while theyre
loading the second truck."
The road began to twist and dip. They were in the foothills now, and the higher
mountains lay ahead.
"Well reach the spot where theyre supposed to change in about a mile.
When we do, you better scrunch down in that seat! There may be some shooting."
It was weird, driving in that pale moonlight through the quiet, sleeping hills. Seconds
ticked off slowly, painfully, and Gus felt his stomach roll around like someone was
jabbing it with cold fingers.
"That was the spot back there. Ill bet those guys have gotten wise and made
the switch already. Ive got to get close enough to make sure."
The lights came closer, until the bulk of the truck was clearly defined in the dim
light. "Thats the one," Ryan said tightly. "The truck that makes the
pick-up." He pulled a .38 from his holster and poked it out the window.
"Im going to take a shot at his tires." But before he could pull the
trigger, the truck leaned into a sharp turn. Ryan slowed for the bend, and instantly the
engine died into futile silence.
Ryan sweated as he struggled to get the engine started again. They had lost a quarter
of a mile, and it took five minutes of delicate juggling through straights and turns to
catch sight of the truck. Then the road suddenly hairpinned, and Ryan was forced to use
the brakes. The engine died again.
Gus leaned forward in the seat, listening. Each time the brake was put on, there was
the sputter of a juicy short.
Ryan swore softly and grimaced as he started up the motor again for the umteenth time.
"Hold it a minute, Billy. Stop and let me get under the car."
"I cant stop now!"
"Youll never catch him this way. Let me look once more. I can hear something
start frying every time you slow down."
Ryan pulled over, and Gus crawled under. He knew now approximately where the sound was
coming fromunder the floorboards. His pen-sized flashlight probed the battery
carrier. Just a chance, maybe something else unrelated slapping
aroundbutthere it was! Happily, Gus wedged his screwdriver in and crawled
"Move over, Billy! Youre going to need both hands to shoot on this winding
road. Shell hold for awhile."
Gus poured on the speed and fought the curves with squealing tires. The engine gave no
sign of quitting now.
"What was it?"
"Tell you later. Got to keep my mind on the road."
They were in close to the ridge before the truck was in sight again. Gus gained
gradually, until it was only a few hundred feet away. Then the truck picked up speed.
"Hes spotted us, Gus. Step on it."
Gus had anticipated the move and, in one short straight, closed the gap.
"Okay, when we come out of this next bend, hold her steady."
They howled through the turn, and Billy leaned out the window. For one tense second the
gun was poised, and then the sharp report bounced painfully against Guss eardrums.
Another shot, and a third. The truck began weaving wildly.
"There he goes!"
The truck smacked against the bank on the right side, lurched crazily on two wheels,
and turned over.
Gus pulled up, and he and the policeman jumped out.
"Wait here, Gus," Ryan said. "Ill go look things over."
Less than a minute later, he was back.
"Its okay. Hes cold like a cucumber. And the trucks loaded with
loot. Come help me tie him up."
A few minutes later, the hijacker, a smallish, sandy-haired man in a leather jacket,
was neatly trussed up in the back seat of the police car. He showed signs of regaining
consciousness and appeared otherwise unhurt. Ryan and Gus got back in the front seat.
"What do we do now, Inspector?" Gus grinned, but his knees were still shaky.
"Well, nows the time I call the highway patrol. They can come and
guard the furs while we take this character back to the brig."
Ryan called them on the police radio and gave them directions. Then he leaned back, lit
a cigarette and smiled wearily.
"Theyll be here in a few minutes. Too bad we didnt get the whole
works. But one man and the loot is something. The restll turn up later. Now, maybe
you can tell me what gives with the car."
"Sure. You know those straps under your battery? Well, the front one was eaten
away by battery acid. Your mechanic should have noticed it when he put the new battery in
"You see, every time you hit the brake, the battery tipped forward, just a
little, but enough to slam the battery cable across the metal edge of the carrier. I was
in too much of a rush to notice that the bottom side of the cable had worn insulation from
the rubbing. But thats where it was shorting out.
"I wedged my screwdriver in to keep it from tilting. I was beginning to lose hope
of finding the trouble until I heard that sputtering noise over the sounds that the car
"Anyway, come around in the morning if your mech isnt out of bed yet, and
Ill fix it up. Youll need a new hold-down on the carrierthe old
ones half burned away. And dont you forget to return that screwdriver!"
"Well, Gus, I sure appreciate what youve done tonight."
"You know, Billy, before you interrupted my evening, I was thinking about taking
another couple of weeks vacation . . . but I wonder. Im beginning to think
people in our town might have to go back to horses if we closed the Model Garage that
long. Tell me, Billy, how would you like being a mounted cop?"
Billy Ryan made a playful swipe at Gusthen they heard the state cops siren
coming from around the bend up ahead.