By Martin Bunn
From the October, 1952 issue of
This story was donated by
Gus Gets the Pitch
"Hurry, hurry, hurry!" spieled the carnival pitchmen,
A horn honked impatiently outside the Model Garage.
"Ill get it," Gus called back to Stan Hicks, his helper. "Youd better stick with that valve job for Mr. Landsdowne."
Two cars were parked out on the concrete by the gasoline pumps. A frayed knotted tow rope linked them. Gus recognized the tow car as the battered coupe belonging to old Jim Barstow who ran a sizable farm about 10 miles out of town. The car being towed looked as if it had just left the showroom.
"Got customers for ya," greeted Barstow, as he unhooked a piece of baling wire and pushed open his door. "Broke down on the road by my back 10. Happened to be cultivatin and offered to tow em in."
He tossed the tow rope into his car and clattered off down the road.
"Quite a character," said Gus with a chuckle to the two riders in the new car. "Now, how did your car happen to stall?"
"Just stalled, thats all," said the big man behind the wheel, in a voice like a saw sharpening a file.
"Yeah," echoed a small man sitting beside him, in equally rasping tones. "We were breezin along in fine style when all of a sudden no motor. It was like Chick, here, had turned off the ignition. I says to Chick--"
"Can the spiel, Sparks. We got no time for chatter. Lets get the car fixed and hit the road." He turned to Gus. "Were pitchmen, misteryou know, spielersfor the big carnival thats opening in the city and we gotta be there tonight to help stake out our act. Think you can help us in a hurry?"
"Try to," said Gus.
The big man eased his bulk out of the car and Gus slid in under the wheel. There was plenty of gas. The mileage showed less than 1,200the car still had that new smell about it. But nothing would coax even a cough out of the engine.
"Lets push her into the shop," Gus said after a few tries, "where I can put some test instruments on her."
"Now, wait a minute, the man called Chick said. "This should be an easy thing to fix. I know a little about cars myself. Its plain enough that the engine just aint getting any gas. Troubles obviously somewhere in the carburetor, the fuel pump or the feed line. You ought to be able to find it there quick enough. We aint got time for a fancy tune-up, so just check the fuel system and get us moving as quick as you can, huh?"
"You may be right," returned Gus evenly. "But I have to look a car over before I can spot the trouble."
"Okay, okay, lets get her inside."
The three men, with Gus reaching in through the drivers window to steer, soon had the car parked beside Guss bench.
"Ever had any trouble before?" asked Gus.
"Nope," answered Chick curtly.
"Been in a repair shop for a check-up?"
As Gus rolled his test panel over, the pitchman moved away and began to pace the garage nervously. His little sidekick placed right along with him. They seemed to be discussing something important in confidential tones. Gus began checking the ignition systemhe felt sure the trouble was there somewhere.
After a few minutes, the little guy, Sparks called out: "Making any progress, Pop?" He looked at a potato-size gold watch anchored to his vest by a heavy gold chain.
Gus ignored the little spieler and kept about his work of checking every wire and connection. On the surface everything seemed perfect, yet the ignition system was completely dead. The test rig bore him out.
There was only one thing to do, check each unit separately, so Gus started out with the battery leads.
"Got an oversize battery in here, havent you?" he asked, tapping the case with the tip of his screwdriver.
"Yeah, yeah," Chick said shortly. "Do a lot of cold-weather driving . .
. But never mind that. Havent you located the trouble yet?"
Over in the corner of the garage where he was working on the Landsdowne car, Stan glanced up in surprise. What did Gus mean by saying he wasnt familiar with that car? Doc Hanson had one just like it and theyd had it in the shop for a tune-up only last week. Guss voice sounded funny, tookind of Milquetoasty, as if he were extra anxious to please the big loud-talking pitchman.
But it seemed to suit Chick. For the first time he sounded almost genial when he said, "Well, all right, old-timer, but shake it up, will you? Were busy men and times a-wastin."
Ten minutes later, after several trips to the stock room, Gus snapped the distributor cap into place and slid into the drivers seat. The engine started up smoothly.
"Ill just road-test it," he called out to the pitchmen and backed the car quickly out of the shop. Both men started to protest that they couldnt spare the time, but Gus was already headed down the road.
When Gus got back to the garage, he was greeted by two red-faced, fuming men, who, judging from the look on Stan Hicks face, had been venting their anger on him.
"Whats the idea?" Chick shouted. "You knew what a hurry were in!"
"No idea. Just routine in this shop. We dont like customers to get a few miles down the road and find that what we thought wed fixed isnt right after al. Matter of fact, she needs one more minor adjustment." Gus popped open the hood again. "Stan, come over here a minute. Ive got a job for you." Gus whispered briefly. Stan nodded and left the garage.
After a few minutes, Gus closed the hood again. "There she is, boys, as good as new. Thatll be $12.50."
"Well, its about time," snapped Chick. The little fellow was already in the car when the big guy slid in and started backing out. Suddenly he stopped. "Hey," he yelled, "get that grease monkey of yours to back that tow truck out of the driveway. How in blazes do you expect me to back out?"
Stan climbed up into the drivers seat and started the engine. As the tow truck eased back out of the way it revealed a state police car also parked crosswise of the entrance.
Sgt. Jerry Corcoran was standing in front of it with his right hand resting firmly on the butt of his gun.
"Okay, you fellows," ordered Jerry, "might as well make it easy for all
of us. Slide out of the car with your hands in back of your heads."
"Thanks a million, Gus," said Jerry, after hed herded the handcuffed pair into their own car with a trooper at the wheel and another in the back seat. Then he climbed into the police car and started the engine.
"What gives with the carnival guys?" asked Stan as he and Gus watched the two-car caravan pull away. "Fleece a local yokel at the last stand?"
"Nothing as simple as that," said Gus. "That car of theirs has more built-in secret compartments than a Chinese puzzle chest."
"Then they werent really carnival men at all."
"Sure they were. Theyve been using that as a front to sell dope to local peddlers around the country. That car of theirs is a rolling narcotics warehouse."
"Gosh, how did you spot it?"
"Well, if the trouble hadnt been in the ignition I probably wouldnt have stumbled on it. In checking it over on the first go-around, it seemed as if everything was oversizethe battery, the oil cleaner, even the coil. Incidentally, the trouble was in the distributor."
"What was it?"
"You know that small carbon brush in the center terminal of the distributor cap that serves as the contract for the spring on top of the rotor?"
"Well, it had cracked and a piece of it had dropped down into the breaker-arm
assembly. It was shorting out the breaker arm, and keeping the breaker points from
"Nothing. But after I dislodged the piece and began replacing the broken brush with a new one, the coil caught my eye. I noticed that it seemed higher than most. I twisted the top and it came off in my hands. The outer shell was a very neat dummy. Inside was a standard coil and wedged in around it were dozens of tiny white paper packets."
"And thats when you decided to road-test the car," put in Stan.
"Right. I wanted Jerry and the boys at the barracks to back me up. The paper packets contained dope, all rightuncut heroin they saidand a concealed drawer at the back end of the battery case was filled with marijuana. What the narcotics boysll find when they really go to work on it is anybodys guess."
"Nice haul for Jerry," said Stan.
"Oh, both the state and the federal boys knew that some syndicate was doing a fast job of distributing dope around the country, but they didnt know about this car. Now they think there might be more than one, part of a big network run by some mechanically minded guy who thought up this gimmick of stashing the dope away in car parts rather than under the seats and in built-in compartments cops are wise to."
"But wouldnt any wise mechanic like you catch on?"
"You sure did. Maybe you ought to be in show business yourself."