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   Chapter 9 No.9

Casey Ryan By B. M. Bower Characters: 11760

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"At that," said Bill, grinning a little, "you'll know as much as the average garage-man. What ain't reformed livery-stable men are second-hand blacksmiths, and a feller like you, that has drove stage for fifteen year-"

"Twenty," Casey Ryan corrected jealously. "Six years at Cripple Creek, and then four in Yellowstone, and I was up in Montana for over five years, driving stage from Dry Lake to Claggett and from there I come to Nevada-"

"Twenty," Bill conceded without waiting to hear more, "knows as much as a man that has kept livery stable. Then again you've had two Fords-"

"Oh, I ain't sayin' I can't run a garage," Casey interrupted. "I don't back down from runnin' anything. But if you'd grubstake me for a year, instead of settin' up this here garage at Patmos, I'd feel like I had a better chance of makin' us both a piece uh money. There's a lost gold mine I been wantin' fer years to get out and look for. I believe I know now about where to hit for. It ain't lost, exactly. There's an old Injun been in the habit of packin' in high grade in a lard bucket, and nobody's been able to trail him and git back to tell about it. He's an old she-bear to do anything with, but I got a scheme, Bill-"

"Ferget it," Bill advised. "Now you listen to me, Casey, and lay off that prospectin' bug for awhile. Here's this long strip of desert from Needles to Ludlow, and tourists trailin' through like ants on movin' day. And here's this garage that I can get at Patmos for about half what the buildin's worth. You ain't got any competition, none whatever. You've got a cinch. There'll be cars comin' in from both ways with their tongues hangin' out, outa gas, outa oil, needin' this and needin' that and looking on that garage as a godsend-"

"Say, Bill, if I gotta be a godsend I'll go out somewheres and holler myself to death. Casey's off that godsend stuff for life; you hear me, Bill-"

"Glad to hear it, Casey. If you go down there to Patmos to clean up some money for you 'n' me, you wanta cut out this soft-hearted stuff. Get the money, see? Never mind being kind; you can be kind when you've got a stake to be it with. Charge 'em for everything they git, and see to it that the money's good. Don't you take no checks. Don't trust nobody for anything whatever. That's your weakness, Casey, and you know it. You're too dog-gone trusting. You promise me you'll put a bell on your tire tester and a log chain and drag on your pump and jack-say, you wouldn't believe the number of honest men that go off for a vacation and steal everything, by golly, they can haul away! Pliers, wrenches, oil cans, tire testers- say, you sure wanta watch 'em when they ask yuh for a tester! You can lose more tire testers in the garage business-"

"Well, now, you watch Casey! When it comes to putting things like that over, they wanta try somebody besides Casey Ryan. You ask anybody if Casey's easy fooled. But I'd ruther go hunt the Injun Jim mine, Bill."

"Say, Casey, in this one summer you can make enough money in Patmos to buy a gold mine. I've been reading the papers pretty careful. Why, they say tourist travel is the heaviest that ever was known, and this is early May and it's only beginning. And lemme tell yuh something, Casey. I'd ruther have a garage in Patmos than a hotel in Los Angeles, and by all they say that's puttin' it strong. Ever been over the road west uh Needles, Casey?"

Casey never had, and Bill proceeded to describe it so that any tourist who ever blew out a tire there with the sun at a hundred and twenty and running in high, would have confessed the limitations of his own vocabulary.

"And there you are, high and dry, with fifteen miles of the ungodliest, tire-chewinest road on either side of yuh that America can show. About like this stretch down here between Rhyolite and Vegas. And hills and chucks-say, don't talk to me about any Injun packin' gold in a lard bucket. Why, lemme tell yuh, Casey, if you work it right and don't be so dog-gone kind-hearted, you'll want a five-ton truck to haul off your profits next fall. I'd go myself and let you run this place here, only I got a lot of credit trade and you'd never git a cent outa the bunch. And then you're wantin' to leave Lund for awhile, anyway."

"You could git somebody else," Casey suggested half-heartedly. "I kinda hate to be hobbled to a place like a garage, Bill. And if there's anything gits my goat, it's patchin' up old tires. I'll run 'em flat long as they'll stay on, before I'll git out and mend 'em. I'd about as soon go to jail, Bill, as patch tires for tourists; I-"

"You don't have to," said Bill, his grin widening. "You sell 'em new tires, see. There won't be one in a dozen you can't talk into a new tire or two. Whichever way they're goin', tell 'em the road's a heap worse from there on than what it was behind 'em. They'll buy new tires-you take it from me they will. And," he added virtuously, "you'll do 'em no harm whatever. If you got a car, you need tires, and a new one'll always come in handy sometime. You know that yourself, Casey.

"Now, I'll put in an assortment of tires, and I'll trust you to sell 'em. You and the road they got to travel. Why, when I was in Ludlow, a feller blew in there with a big brute of a car-36-6 tires. He'd had a blow-out down the other side of Patmos and he was sore because they didn't have no tires he could use down there. He bought three tires-three, mind yuh, and peeled off the bills to pay for 'em! Sa-ay when yuh figure two hundred cars a day rollin' through, and half of 'em comin' to yuh with grief of some kind-"

"It's darn little I know about any car but a Ford," Casey admitted plaintively. "When yuh come to them complicated ones that you can crawl behind the wheel and set your boot on a button and holler giddap and she'll start off in a lope, I don't know about it. A Ford's lik

e a mule or a burro. You take a monkey wrench and work 'em over, and cuss, and that's about all there is to it. But you take them others, and I got to admit I don't know."

"Well," said Bill, and spat reflectively, "you roll up your sleeves and I'll learn yuh. It'll take time for the stuff to be delivered, and you can learn a lot in two or three weeks, Casey, if you fergit that prospectin' idea and put your mind to it."

Casey rolled a cigarette and smoked half of it, his eyes clinging pensively to the barren hills behind Lund. He hunched his shoulders, looked at Bill and grinned reluctantly.

"She's a go with me, Bill, if you can't think of no other way to spend money. I wisht you took to poker more, or minin', or something that's got action. Stakin' Casey Ryan to a garage business looks kinda foolish to me. But if you can stand it, Bill, I can. It's kinda hard on the tourists, don't yuh think?"

Thus are garages born,-too many of them, as suffering drivers will testify. Casey Ryan, known wherever men of the open travel and spin their yarns, famous for his recklessly efficient driving of lurching stagecoaches in the old days, and for his soft heart and his happy-go-lucky ways; famous too as the man who invented ungodly predicaments from which he could extricate himself and be pleased if he kept his shirt on his back; Casey Ryan as the owner of a garage might justly be considered a joke pushed to the very limit of plausibility. Yet Casey Ryan became just that after two weeks of cramming on mechanics and the compiling of a reference book which would have made a fortune for himself and Bill if they had thought to publish it.

"A quort of oil becomes lubrecant and is worth from five to fifteen cents more per quort when you put it into a two-thousand dollar car or over," was one valuable bit of information supplied by Bill. Also: "Never cuss or fight a man getting work done in your place. Shut up and charge him according to the way he acts."

It is safe to assume that Bill would make a fortune in the garage business anywhere, given normal traffic.

Patmos consists of a water tank on the railroad, a siding where trains can pass each other, a ten-by-ten depot, telegraph office and express and freight office, six sweltering families, one sunbaked lodging place with tent bedrooms so hot that even the soap melts, and the Casey Ryan garage. I forgot to mention three trees which stand beside the water tank and try to grow enough at night to make up for the blistering they get during the day. The highway (Coast to Coast and signed at every crossroads in red letters on white metal boards with red arrows pointing to the far skyline) shies away from the railroad at Patmos so that perspiring travelers look wistfully across two hundred yards or so of lava rock and sand and wish that they might lie under those three trees and cool off. They couldn't, you know. It is no cooler under the trees than elsewhere. It merely looks cooler.

Even the water tank is a disappointment to the uninitiated. You cannot drink the water which the pump draws wheezingly up from some deep reservoir of bad flavors. It is very clear water and it has a sparkle that lures the unwary, but it is common knowledge that no man ever drank two swallows of it if he could help himself. So the water supply of Patmos lies twelve miles away in the edge of the hills, where there is a very good spring. One of the six male residents of Patmos hauls water in barrels, at fifty cents a barrel. He makes a living at it, too.

One other male resident keeps the lodging place,-I avoid the term lodging house, because this place is not a house. It is a shack with a sign straddling out over the hot porch to insult the credulity of the passers-by. The sign says that this place is "The Oasis,"-and the nearest trees a long rifleshot away, and the coolest water going warm into parched mouths!

The Oasis stands over by the highway, alongside Casey's garage, and the proprietor spends nine tenths of his waking hours sitting on the front porch and following the strip of shade from the west end to the east end, and in watching the trains go by, and counting the cars of tourists and remarking upon the State license plate.

"There's an outfit from Ioway, maw," he will call in to his wife. "Wonder where they're headed fer?" His wife will come to the door and look apathetically at the receding dust cloud, and go back somewhere,-perhaps to put fresh soap in the tents to melt. Toward evening the cars are very likely to slow down and stop reluctantly; sunburned, goggled women and men looking the place over without enthusiasm. It isn't much of a place, to be sure, but any place is better than none in the desert, unless you have your own bed and frying pan with you, roped in dusty canvas to the back of your car.

Alongside the Oasis stands the garage, and in the garage swelters Casey,- during this episode. Just at first Bill came down from Lund and helped him to arrange and mark prices on his stock of tires and "parts" and accessories, and to remember the catalogue names for things so that he would recognize them when a car owner asked for them.

Casey, I must explain, had evolved a system of his own while driving his Ford wickedly here and there to the consternation of his fellow men. Whatever was not a hootin'-annie was a dingbat, and treated accordingly. The hootin'-annie appeared to be the thing that went wrong, while the dingbat was the thing the hootin'-annie was attached to. It was perfectly simple, to Casey and his Ford, but Bill thought it was a trifle limited and was apt to confuse customers. So Bill remained three days mopping his face with his handkerchief and explaining things to Casey. After that Casey hired a heavy-eyed young Mexican to pump tires and fill radiators and the like, and settled down to make his fortune.

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