At Mrs. Gebhardt’s breakfast table the next morning, Buz no more than polished off one plate of pancakes when she added two more fresh and hot ones to his plate.
“Mrs. Gebhardt,” he said. “You’re going to make us fat.”
“You boys are too thin as it is. All that driving all around you been doing all over the country that you’ve told me about. When’s the last time you had a good hearty breakfast?”
“Yesterday,” Tod said with a grin.
“And you’ll get one tomorrow too!” She looked at Tod’s plate, which was only half finished. “You work hard at the freight yard, you have to eat well so you can get through the day. Now don’t sass me, you eat!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tod replied. “Mrs. Gebhardt, do you have a phone directory?”
“Yes. Who do you need to call?”
“We have to call a cab. My car was stolen last night.”
“You’re pretty blue car?!”
“Oh that’s awful. This city, I swear it’s getting worse every day…” Mrs. Gebhardt left the kitchen and returned a few moments later with the Atlanta phone directory and she handed it to Tod.
“Thank you,” he said. He opened it up.
“You finish breakfast first, then you tend to business.”
“Sorry, I’m just not very hungry this morning.”
She took the phone directory away. “You eat. Then you make your call.”
Tod sighed. “Yes, ma’am.” He picked up his fork and started poking at his scrambled eggs again.
Mrs. Gebhardt put the directory on the kitchen counter. “Now what are you boys going to do for a car? You can’t take cabs all the time.”
Buz waved his fork at Tod, indicating he should continue to eat. “We figure Saturday we’ll go look for another car,” Buz answered.
“Will you get the same as what you had?” she asked hopefully.
Buz shook his head. “I’m afraid we can’t afford another car like that.”
“No? Aww…” Mrs. Gebhardt paused, wondering something but she held back on voicing it.
Tod caught her expression. “How’d we ever afford that one?”
She nodded. “I know it’s an expensive car, I see it in the magazines.”
“My father gave it to me,” Tod said.
“Your father…has lots of money?”
Tod shook his head and lowered his gaze, poking at the breakfast he wasn’t really hungry for. “Not anymore. He passed away…”
“Oh dear. No wonder you don’t have much appetite. That car was special to you. Your father.”
Tod nodded. “Yeah…”
“I’m sorry. If I could snap my fingers and bring that car back for you, I would do so right now. Instead the best I can do is let you boys use my car Saturday morning when you go looking for another one. I only ask that you have it back by 1 o’clock so I can go to the market.”
Tod and Buz glanced at each other and Buz gave a nod. “We appreciate that, Mrs. Gebhardt,” he said. “Thank you.”
She nodded. “Good. Now you boys finish your breakfast and call for your cab, don’t be late.”
While Tod and Buz ate breakfast, the Corvette sat in a warehouse near the Mechanicsville section of Atlanta. By mid-morning, the broken window was replaced, the ignition cylinder was changed to allow for new keys and a few minor mechanical fixes were taken care of. The car was then washed, waxed, buffed and cleaned, ready to be sold.
After overseeing the prep of the car personally, Stuart went to The King around noon time to report to Doyle.
“The Corvette’s all set. The boys should be finishing up cleaning it this morning.”
“Good. Any problems getting it?’
Stuart made a face. “Eh, we had to bust the window.”
“I thought your newfangled tool was supposed to avoid that?”
“It does, but Donnie gets impatient. It’s fixed though.”
Silas nodded. “How many miles on it?”
Stuart nodded. “Sixty-five thousand.”
“What year is it?”
“Sixty. It’s in great shape, well cared for. Monty checked everything over, changed the oil in it and replaced a couple of the belts. He did notice the tie rod on the steering in front looks to be a handmade job.”
“Yeah. Whoever did it did a good job, the thing’s solid and the steering is very responsive. You wouldn’t know it wasn’t a true replacement part.”
“Well, we don’t need to worry about disclosing any of that to a buyer. But that odometer might scare them off. Tell Monty to roll it back. Nobody likes high mileage cars that are only 2 years old.”
Stuart nodded. “Will do. Oh, there’s one more thing…” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a diamond tennis bracelet.
Silas raised an eyebrow. “Bonus?”
Stuart shook his head. “Diane’s. It was found in the car.” He paused.
Silas noted the hesitation and looked at his subordinate. “Women lose their jewelry often,” he said.
“Yeah, but I’m afraid Diane’s losing her nerve. There was something about this set up that seemed to bug her. I think she genuinely likes the guy.”
“She should know better,” Silas said. “We can’t afford to have her get sweet on any target. You take the bracelet back to her and make sure she understands that.”
Stuart nodded and pocketed the bracelet. He then grabbed a starlight mint and left the office.
Later that afternoon, before the club opened for its usual trade, Diane walked through the lounge toward the stage where her piano player, Charlie, was setting up.
“Charlie,” she said, handing a piece of paper to him. “I’d like to do these songs tonight.”
Charlie took the list and looked at it. He nodded. “Ok,” he said. “Looks like a good set.”
“Thanks, Charlie.” Diane headed backstage to get ready.
She was halfway through applying her makeup when she looked in her mirror and saw Stuart standing in the door way. She said nothing and he stepped in wordlessly. He pulled another chair up to her, turning it so to rest his forearms on the chair back. He held the bracelet up.
Diane looked at it. “Where’d you find that?”
“It was in the car, under the seat.” He studied her a moment. “You got a little sloppy with this one.”
She took the bracelet and tossed it on the vanity, avoiding his gaze.
“What happened?” he pressed. “Don’t tell me this kid got to you?”
“What do you want? I’m not a professional.”
“You were, once. Nothing about any of the targets before ever got to you. We got a good thing going here when we need it. C’mon, what’s with this guy?”
“Look, the job is done and you don’t really care anyway so why are you asking?”
“Because I want to make sure you’re not going to be sloppy on the next job. I don’t want this to become a habit. Sentimentality is nice in a song but it really doesn’t look that good on you sweetheart.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I won’t be sloppy on the next one.” She turned back to her vanity and picked up a makeup brush. She looked at Stuart in the mirror, who remained in his chair looking at her.
“I won’t,” she said. “Now will you get out of here please?”
“I just want to be sure we understand each other. Because you know Silas doesn’t like slip ups.”
Diane said nothing. Stuart got up from the chair and left the dressing room.
Saturday morning, Mrs. Gebhardt handed the key to her car to Tod and the two friends drove the black 1949 Chevy Deluxe sedan to the west side of Atlanta where several auto dealerships were located. They checked out a couple of dealers, one a big dealership where the salesman was on them like a bad smell the minute they pulled into the parking lot, and then a smaller, one-man used auto lot where the owner apparently didn’t care one way or the other if he a sold a car that day.
Discouragement was already creeping in when they pulled into the small lot of Jepson Auto Sales. Tod pulled the Deluxe up next to a dark blue two-door 1960 Bel Air. The price on the window was $1500.00. The two stepped from the Deluxe and paused to look at the Bel Air for a moment.
“Not a bad deal,” Tod said.
Buz walked the length of the car, looking at it. “Well, it’s a two-door at least.”
“We wouldn’t know what to do with four doors.”
“C’mon,” Tod said, smiling. “Let’s see what else they have.”
Inside the office a young dark haired girl of about 20 watched the two as they walked through the lot. Maggie Jepson smiled and turned from the window to the older man sitting at the desk, who was finishing up on a phone call.
Harold Jepson looked aged beyond his fifty years. “….will you take a partial payment? I can bring $200 Monday and have the rest by the end of the week…” He listened and then closed his eyes and breathed a sigh in relief. “Oh thank you, Stan. Thank you very much.” He hung up, looking relieved but tired of dodging financial bullets.
“Papa,” Maggie said. “There are two boys in the lot, looking around.”
“Oh good. We’ll give them a couple of minutes. If I can sell one car today, Maggie, one car, we can make the payment to the bank on the floor plan loan before the end of the week and I got Stan over at the parts depot to accept a partial payment on Monday.”
“That’s good, Papa. We’ll sell more than one car today, I’m sure of it!”
“Maggie, we haven’t sold a car in two weeks. This is the worst it’s been since Doyle opened his third dealership down the street.” Harold Jepson shook his head. “I’ve lost my best salesman, I’m down to one mechanic. If things keep going like this we may not make it to the end of the year…” He stood up from the desk and straightened his necktie, preparing to go talk to his potential customers.
Maggie looked at her father sympathetically. Hard as she tried to be a cheerleader, she knew business was bad and she had watched for the past year as the strain began to affect her father. Every day she cursed Silas Doyle and his brand new shiny dealership that was less than half a mile down the street. What did he need three dealerships for anyway?
Harold Jepson stepped out of the office and on to the sales lot. He spotted Tod and Buz at the end of it, looking over a couple of sedans and he approached.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” Harold said, offering a smile and a handshake. “I’m Harold Jepson.”
“Good morning,” Tod said, guardedly. He shook hands out of civility. He and Buz had been pestered by one pushy salesman already that morning and neither of them were looking forward to having to deal with another.
Harold Jepson had been selling cars long enough that he detected the defenses. He maintained his smile and extended a handshake to Buz as well and found the same cordial, but cautious, response.
“See anything you boys like? Although I would hope two young fellas like yourself would want something a little sportier than this old wagon?” Harold pointed to the 1955 Chevy wagon they were standing near.
“Afraid we can’t afford anything sporty,” Buz said.
Tod nodded. “We were mostly looking at what you had for sedans. We did see a nice Bel Air where we drove in.”
Harold turned to look where the Bel Air was parked. “Ah yes, that one is clean with low mileage. I could see either one of you in that car…” The three walked back to the Bel Air.
Maggie watched from the office window as the three stood by the car and looked to be negotiating. She saw the tall blond take a folded paper from his pocket and show it to her father. The car dealer shook his head.
“I can’t do $1200,” he admitted. “Thirteen-fifty is the lowest I can go. Believe me, I want to sell you this car, but I can’t afford the loss.”
Tod nodded. “Appreciate your honesty Mr. Jepson. Buz and I are on a pretty tight budget unfortunately.”
“I understand. I do have a financing option $250 down, 3.99% for up to 3 years or longer if ya need.”
“Thing is,” Buz said, “Tod and I don’t know how long we’re going to stay in Atlanta.”
“If we finance anything, it’ll be short term,” Tod said.
“I can do short term,” Jepson said. “With or without a bigger down payment.”
“It’d be bigger,” Tod said. “Tell you what, Buz and I are gonna go look at this other car that’s advertised at Doyle’s. Who knows, we may get there and it’s already been sold. If that’s the case, we’ll be back.”
Harold smiled, masking his disappointment. Even if the advertised car was already sold he figured Doyle would get these boys to buy something else in their price range. Odds were slim he’d see them again. “Ok,” he said and offered a parting handshake. “Hopefully I’ll see you boys back here soon.”
When Tod and Buz rolled into Doyle Chevrolet, they were greeted by a huge sales lot, lines of shiny new cars, a big modern building with large glassed in showroom and the words DOYLE CHEVROLET emblazoned across the roofline. Tod guided the Deluxe past the show room, the aging Chevy catching the attention of a salesman who watched with interest through the window to see where the Deluxe went.
Tod drove to the end of the lot and slowed to turn around when Buz suddenly pointed. “Tod, look…”
There, parked facing the other street, were five Corvettes with one distinctly familiar blue colored tail end showing. The single tail lights on each side distinguished it from the other four cars that all sported the four tail lights of the models that came after 1960. Tod turned the Deluxe and pulled up to the line of ‘vettes.
The two got out of the car and looked over the Corvette. Buz pointed to a spot on the rear deck lid, near the luggage rack, where a faint scratch could be seen. Tod’s car had a scratch in the same location that had been caused by the luggage strap they used to keep their suitcases and sleeping bags secure.
“Can’t be…” Tod said. He moved to look at the interior, easily visible with the top down. Everything was cleaned and polished but was the exact same as his car. He checked the mileage and found it only read 5832.
Tod opened the door and rolled up the window. It was new. Brand new glass, he could tell, as the window on his car had picked up a couple of scratches along the way. He closed the door, leaving the window up and looked Buz standing on the other side of the car. “Buz, I don’t believe this…”
Buz looked in the interior too, at the passenger side that he was more intimate with. Everything was cleaned and polished but the few nick marks that the car had picked up in the past year and a half still showed. He then leaned in and looked at the odometer. “The mileage is wrong…”
“Odometers can be rolled back,” Tod said. “Just like scratches can be buffed out, and windows can be replaced.”
“You got your key?”
Tod dug into his pocket and took out his keys that he still carried out of habit. He opened the door again and sat in the car, trying his key in the ignition. It went in but didn’t turn.
“Ignition cylinders can be replaced…” Buz said.
Tod took his key back out, stepped out of the car and went to the trunk, using the other key to try to open it. It didn’t work but neither Tod nor Buz were convinced that the car wasn’t what they thought it was.
Suddenly, Tod thought of something. “The steering,” he said. “The tie rod.” He rushed to the front of the car as Buz recalled the handmade tie rod that a blacksmith in Mississippi had made for them when they wrecked the original trying to go over a small dilapidated bridge. That would certainly be recognizable.
Buz turned, startled and looked at the approaching salesman. “Oh, uh, good morning.”
The salesman had a bright smile on his face. “I see you fellas found something that caught your eye.”
“Oh yeah, sure did…” Buz said. He forced a smile but kept glancing to the front of the car where Tod had disappeared to check underneath.
“Uh, what’s your friend doing?”
“He’s checking the tie rod on the steering.”
“The tie rod?” the salesman chuckled. “Well, I’ll admit that’s unusual. Most people usually just kick the tires.”
Buz looked to the front again and Tod reemerged from underneath the car. He nodded grimly to Buz as he brushed his hands off. “Well, this is an unusual car,” Buz said, looking at the salesman now. “Because it was stolen. From him.” He pointed at Tod.
“I beg your pardon?”
“This car is mine,” Tod said. “It was stolen Wednesday night.”
“Stolen? What are you two talking about? This car’s been here for two weeks.”
“The car was stolen, mister, and we can prove it,” Tod said.
“You got documents for it?”
“Not on me,” Tod said. “But the tie rod on this car was hand forged by a blacksmith in Mississippi. It’s a pretty unique piece of craftsmanship. You can replace a broken window and buff out some of the scratches but you didn’t replace the tie rod.”
“Handmade tie rod, this is nonsense! This car is documented, it was traded in two weeks ago by a fella who bought a new one. You come back to the showroom right now and I’ll show you and then I want you two off this lot!” The salesman spun around and marched off back to the showroom.
Buz started after him, if to do nothing more than spin the man around and make him listen. Tod hurried around the Corvette and stopped his friend.
“Documents can be forged,” Buz said.
“I know,” Tod said. “Let’s see what he’s got and then we’ll go to the police.”
The two climbed into the Deluxe and drove back to the show room.
When they go there, the salesman slapped papers down on the desk. “There! See for yourself. All signed and documented and in proper order. And the mechanic’s notes don’t say anything about the tie rod being different.”
Tod and Buz each looked at documents, Tod holding what he knew was a forged Georgia state title in his hand and he was quietly seething. Meantime, another salesman came over to see what the commotion was.
“These two sidewinders here claim that ’60 Corvette that was traded in two weeks ago is a stolen car that was stolen just a couple of days ago. Utter nonsense!”
“That’s a serious accusation,” the other salesman said, looking at the two. “Have you any proof?”
Buz tossed the dealers invoice on to the desk and was about to speak when Jeff answered. “Oh they gave some cockamamie story about the tie rod being some handmade jobber.” Jeff plucked the title document out of Tod’s hand. “A lot of people try a lot of tricks and I thought I’d heard them all but you two take the prize. Now get out of here.”
“We’ll leave but we’ll be back,” Tod said. “With the police.”
“Fine,” Jeff said. “Bring your mother too if it’ll make you feel better.”
Tod and Buz both shot the salesman a look to kill but kept their tempers in check and turned, leaving the showroom. Jeff and the other salesman watched the two men return to their Chevy Deluxe and drive away.
“Of all the damned luck!” Jeff said.
“I’ll go tell Monty to get the car off the lot and let Mr. Doyle know. Those two could be trouble.”
At the police station, Tod and Buz got a lukewarm reaction from the officer when they made their report. The officer held a file folder that contained Tod’s report of the Corvette being stolen, which included a copy of the Corvette’s New York registration which had the VIN number, and he looked it over, appearing somewhat disinterested.
“So this car of yours that was stolen, y’all say it’s at Doyle Chevrolet?” the officer asked.
“That’s right,” Tod said. “Parked along the side, facing the street.”
“And it’s definitely your car?”
“Absolutely. I’ll bet when you check the VIN number on that car it’ll match what’s in the file there.”
“Well, awright. I’ll follow you fellas over there.” Despite agreeing to go, the officer sounded like he had other things he could have been doing.
Back at the dealership, things went from bad to worse. When Tod and Buz walked in with the police officer Jeff, the salesman, was all smiles.
“Well hello Frank!” Jeff said to the officer. “This is a surprise! How’s that wagon running?”
“Oh it’s running great, Mr. Fields, the wife really likes it.”
“Yeah? Good, good, glad to hear it…”
Buz glanced at Tod and rolled his eyes. He turned away from the display. There was no way this was going to go well.
“What can I do for ya?” Jeff asked, glancing at Tod and Buz like he had no idea what any of this was about.
“Well, it seems these boys were here a little while ago and they say you have this fella’s stolen car on your lot.”
Buz turned back around just as Jeff frowned at him and Tod. “I’ve never seen these two before, Frank.”
“That’s a lie!” Buz said “We were here and you got a blue 1960 Corvette on the north side of your lot that belongs to my buddy here.”
“Well, I’ve got a few Corvettes over there but I don’t have a sixty,” Jeff replied calmly. “You sure you got the right dealership?”
“Oh we got the right dealership,” Tod said evenly. He looked at the officer. “We were here, officer, and Mr. Fields here has seen us. He’s lying because the car is a stolen vehicle and he knows it.”
“Gentlemen, I don’t have a ’60 Corvette on the lot,” Jeff said. “Look, we can go out and take a look if you like.”
The officer nodded. “Let’s go have a look.”
“It’s not going to be there,” Buz muttered to Tod. The four headed out of the showroom and to the lot.
At the north end of the lot, Tod and Buz saw exactly what they were expecting. Only four Corvettes were parked there now. Tod’s blue one that had been in the middle was gone and the four remaining cars had been repositioned for the display.
“There you are,” Jeff said with a sweep of his hand. “Those are the only Corvettes I’ve got, all sixty-twos.”
“The car’s been moved, officer,” Tod said.
“Maybe,” the officer said. “But as it is, there’s no car here now and Mr. Fields has said he’s never seen you before. Now I’m sorry your car got stolen and all, but I ain’t sure what you two are up to with trying to accuse a respectable car dealership of selling stolen vehicles. Unless you can prove any of such a ridiculous accusation, I suggest you boys find something else to occupy yourselves with and stop wasting other people’s time.”
“Did you get a good deal on your car, officer?” Buz asked.
The officer raised an eyebrow. “Are you implying something?”
“Am I? I was just curious…”
“If you boys are done,” Jeff said, “you can go now. On your own. Or I can have the nice officer here escort you off the lot.”
“That a threat?” Tod asked.
“I reckon you boys can take that however you want,” Jeff said.
Buz stepped up to the officer and looked at the badge.
“What are you looking at?” the officer barked.
“Your badge,” Buz said.
“Why? You want the number?”
Buz looked from the badge to the officer. “Oh I got the number. And apparently, so do you…” He then backed away and walked with Tod back to where the Deluxe was parked.
They climbed into the Chevy, both of them slamming doors. Tod’s usually youthful expression was hard with anger. Buz put an arm up on the door panel and had a hand to his face briefly then balling it into a fist, edgy with frustration.
“We go back to see Mr. Jepson,” Tod said. “Take that Bel Air.”
Buz nodded. “I’m ok with that.” He looked at his buddy. “Then we find out where the Corvette is?”
“You got it. And I’m not leaving Atlanta until we do.”
“I’m with you. Let’s go.”
Tod started the Deluxe and the sedan lurched forward as Tod expressed some of his anger through the throttle. Tod simmered once on the road remembering he was driving somebody else’s car.
Maggie Jepson was out in the lot, fixing the multi colored antenna pennants on the cars that faced the road when she spotted Tod and Buz returning in the ’49 Deluxe. She hurried across the lot to the garage as the boys were pulling in.
“Papa!” she called, going in through the garage to the office. “Papa, those boys from this morning, they’re back!”
Harold Jepson turned from his filing cabinet to look at his daughter and then caught sight through the window of the Deluxe pulling up to the office.
“I don’t believe it!” he smiled and slammed the cabinet drawer closed loudly, unable to help himself. Nobody who went on to Doyle Chevrolet ever came back a second time to his lot.
Tod and Buz climbed out of the Deluxe and came into the office.
“You fellas came back!” Jepson said.
Tod gave a half smile, still burned up over discovering his Corvette on Doyle’s sales lot. “Yes, sir, we’re back.”
“Don’t tell me the Bel Air they were advertising sold and they couldn’t interest you in another car?”
“We never quite got that far,” Buz said. “You might say we were a bit overwhelmed by the inventory.”
“Oh?” Jepson didn’t quite follow and he sensed the boys seemed tense. Before he could ask Buz to explain, Tod kept things on business.
“Mr. Jepson, we’d like to take that Bel Air you have for $1,350.”
Jepson blinked, not believing what he’d just heard. “Absolutely! Of course, uh, but don’t you fellas want to test drive It first? I mean, the car runs great but…”
“I’m afraid we don’t have time to test drive it right now,” Tod said, “we have to get the car we’re driving now back to a very nice lady who let us borrow it this morning.”
“Well, how about this – Maggie, go get the keys for the blue Bel Air, you know where they are…”
Maggie nodded and went to get the keys.
“…how about you boys take it now, test drive it, take your other car back and come back this afternoon and we’ll draw up papers. You boys talked about financing before…?”
“Yeah,” Tod said. He seemed anxious to leave, however. “Yeah, we did…we don’t know how much, we got take some time to work up some figures…”
Not only were they tense, they were rattled by something. “Well, tell you what, I’ll do up a few scenarios and we’ll talk about when you come back ok?”
Tod glanced at Buz, who nodded in agreement. “Yeah, ok.”
“Awright.” Maggie returned with the keys and she handed them to her father. He then held them out to Tod but maintained his hold when the blond young man tried to take them. Tod met Jepson’s gaze and the car salesman was serious. “Then I want you to tell me why didn’t buy a car from Doyle Chevrolet…”
Buz drove the Deluxe back to Mrs. Gebhardt’s boarding house with Tod following in the new Bel Air. Buz parked the older Chevy back in the driveway while Tod parked along the street. The boys went inside and Buz returned the key to Mrs. Gebhardt.
“You found a car?” Mrs. Gebhardt said. “Oh, that’s wonderful! Let me see…” She followed the boys out the front door and Buz made a sweeping “ta-da!” motion with his hand.
“Oh my… very nice!” She approached the car closer. “Such a handsome color,” she said. She looked at Tod. “Do you like it?”
Tod nodded. “Yeah, it’s nice.”
“But it’s not your Corvette.”
Tod’s expression clouded. “No, ma’am it’s not.”
“Well, I’m glad you found one,” she said and smiled. “Are you boys running off somewhere now?”
“Tod has to crunch the numbers,” Buz said. “Then we’re going back to sign the papers and everything. We wanted to get your car back to you before 1 o’clock.”
Mrs. Gebhardt smiled. “You’re good boys, thank you.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Gebhardt,” Tod said, “for letting us use your car.”
At The King, Silas Doyle was getting the bad news.
"I didn’t say to put it on the lot! Who the hell put it on the lot?!" he exclaimed to Stuart. He then waved his hand about. "Never mind, where is it now?"
"It's back in the warehouse over on Bluff Street."
"Leave it there for now. I may have a buyer for it by the time of the race in two weeks, we can ship it out of here."
"What about Stiles and Murdock? They went to the police."
"They didn't get far. Lieutenant Fredericks assures me everything is under control. Just the same, these two may need to be clipped if they start poking around, trying to find that car." Silas paused. "It's on Bluff Street?"
Silas smiled. "Good. Even if those boys ever figure out where it is, they won't dare go trying to get it out of there. Tell Diane I want to see her. If those two come back to the club that may be our only chance to clip them."
Stuart nodded and left the office.
After Tod ran the numbers based on what they had saved, the boys returned to Jepson’s car lot. Mr. Jepson had worked up a couple of financing scenarios for them and they agreed to one. Tod called the bank he and Buz used, which was located in Denver, to wire the money for the down payment to Mr. Jepson’s auto sales account at a bank in Atlanta. Tod and Buz then signed the various papers to close the deal.
“You boys have no idea how happy I was to see you come back, even more so that y’all bought this car,” Mr. Jepson said as he straightened the papers. He then put them aside and looked at the boys. “Now… I want to know why you didn’t buy a car at Doyle Chevrolet. Because nobody who leaves my sales lot here and goes there, ever comes back. But you did.”
Tod and Buz exchanged a look. “Well, Mr. Jepson you might find this incredible to believe…” Tod started, “but my car was stolen Wednesday night. This morning Buz and I found it on the lot at Doyle Chevrolet.”
Jepson was stunned but there was also an “ah ha” expression mixed in. Silas Doyle’s more colorful background, what was known of it, seemed to lend credence to such an act and Jepson himself had speculated about it for years. “You’re right,” he said, “that is incredible. Did you say something?”
“Oh yeah, we said something. But the salesman had all kinds of documents claiming the car had been on their lot for two weeks.”
“Are you sure it was your car?”
“It’s mine. We left and went back with a cop, for all the good that did. The car was gone and the salesman denied ever seeing us.”
“That explains why you were so rattled when you came back here. What kind of car is it?”
Jepson nodded. “That would makes sense.”
“What do you mean?” Buz asked. “Does Doyle sell stolen cars from his dealerships?”
“Let me put it this way; nobody has ever accused Silas Doyle of selling stolen cars at any of his dealerships. But there’s a part of me that would not be surprised if he did.”
“What makes you say that?” Buz asked.
Jepson paused thoughtfully. “Silas Doyle is an ex-moonshine driver. He’s bragged about that over the years. He’s also boasted, in private conversations held at public functions, that he used to steal cars in his youth. He’s big into auto racing, he’s big into cars in general but he has an affection for sports cars and high end cars, cars like your Corvette. He has three dealerships here in Atlanta, the one you boys went to down the street there only opened a year ago. Now, I admit I have no love lost for the man because he’s going to push me out of business before too long here. But if you were to talk to any other car dealers around Atlanta, you’d get a similar story.”
“He’s never been caught or tied to any stolen cars?” Tod asked.
“No. His public image is sterling. He’s Mr. Chamber of Commerce. Hobnobs with politicians, celebrities and people with money. Just last month I saw his name in the sports pages that he’s trying to get in to NASCAR, sponsoring a car. There was an article just before the Atlanta 500 that he was apparently in negotiations to sponsor Lee Petty’s son, Richard, and some other young driver by the name of Yarborough next season.”
“Sounds like a real charmer,” Buz said.
“Oh he is. He’s as smooth as they come. “
“What kind of auto racing does he dig?” Buz asked.
“Stock car, NASCAR type racing. He sponsors an amateur event called the Skull Cracker 125. That’s being held in a couple of weeks.”
Buz chuckled. “Skull Cracker?”
“It’s a slang term for moonshine.”
“Oh. I thought maybe it was a demolition derby.”
“Sometimes it is,” Jepson said. “I’ve heard it can be a rough race.”
A little later, Tod and Buz left Jepson’s sales office and returned to their new Bel Air.
“Wait,” Buz said before Tod started the car. “You’re the lead foot. What’s the difference between the stock car racing they do here and the Formula One racing you did in California?”
Tod snorted. “Everything.”
“Do you think you could do it?”
“Because I think we should let Mr. Silas Doyle know that we’re not going away so quietly. You heard what Mr. Jepson said about him. I think Doyle’s the connection to finding the Corvette.”
“Yeah… but, how are we going to snoop around to find the Corvette while trying to keep this car from being wrecked on the track?”
Buz grinned. “You worry about the driving. I’ll worry about the snooping.”
Tod and Buz drove twenty miles south of Atlanta to Hampton, Georgia where Atlanta International Raceway was located. The 1.5 mile oval was only two years old but was not quite the facility Tod was expecting to see. The track was paved and had sufficient grandstands to hold upwards of 55,000 people at least, but the front row seats of the grandstand actually sat below the retaining wall, making it nearly impossible for any race fans who were unfortunate enough to get those seats to actually see the race.
That wasn’t even the worse. The track’s main office was located in the infield, which was where the restroom facilities were also located. “Facilities” mostly consisting of, literally, outhouses with a hole in the ground.
The track had been plagued by insufficient funding, bad weather during construction starting in 1958, an ever changing list of investors in the project and then finally thrown together mere weeks before hosting its first race in July 1960. Apparently things were running about the same since.
There was activity in and around the track as Tod and Buz walked from the grandstands, across the track and to the infield. A couple of cars were zooming around the track, while the sound of tools clanging could be heard from the infield garage area.
Tod and Buz got the information they were looking for from a burly man who chomped on a cigar as he shuffled some papers. He was less than impressed with Tod’s racing credentials, including Tod’s third place finish in the US Grand Prix race at Riverside just over a year ago. He asked a few questions about Tod’s car and nodded upon hearing it was a Bel Air. “Yeah, that’s fine,” he said. He handed Tod a short rules and regs sheet and a registration form for Doyle’s Skull Cracker 125 race.
“Thanks,” Tod said. “Listen, is there any set times for a test and tune or a chance I could take the car out on to the track for a shakedown run?”
“Test and tune is 4 to 6 this afternoon.”
Tod nodded. “Thanks.” He and Buz left the office.
As they walked through the infield, Tod looked over the papers.
“Hey, top prize money is $5000,” he said.
“Nice bonus,” Buz said.
“Yeah. If I win. Find out this afternoon after I take the car out for a lap or two how much work we’ve got ahead of us.”
“When’s the race?”
“Two weeks from tomorrow.”
“Will that be enough time to get the car ready?”
“It will be if we work on it every night.”
“We? Every night?”
“We. Every night.”
“Well, that puts a damper on the social calendar.”
Tod grinned. “It was your idea.”
“Yeah, I know.” Buz nodded. “OK...”
“What makes you think we’ll figure out anything from here anyway?”
“Well, if what Mr. Jepson said is all true it sounds like Silas Doyle never got out of the gangs. He’s merely graduated and now has his own little empire going. He’s gotta have a whole network of guys working for him to boost the cars. Odds are, some of them might be wandering around here to look legit. We may see or hear something. Or, after our display today at the dealership, somebody might see or hear us.”
Tod slowed to a stop and casually looked around. If the idea of he and Buz having set themselves up as bait bothered him, it wasn’t showing. He looked more like the idea kind of appealed to him.
Buz grinned. “Like I said, you worry about the driving, I’ll worry about the snooping. You want the Vette back right?”
Tod looked at Buz and nodded, there being no doubt. “You know it.”
“Don’t I.” Buz smiled. “You just be careful and keep the car on the track and don’t wreck or the only other way we’re gonna get out of Atlanta is to walk.”
Tod gave a snort. “And go where? Back to New York?”
Buz shook his head. “No way.” He patted Tod on the shoulder and the two continued on walking through the garage area.
They passed one garage stall with a ’61 Impala in it. Stuart’s car theft partner, Donnie, straightened up from under the hood of the white Chevy and wiped his hands on a rag. He stepped out of the stall and watched Tod and Buz as they continued on.