The worst thing about working for Mechanical Support was that the facilities were scattered out all over Grantville, even now, two and a half years after the Ring of Fire. They'd never been able to take the time to centralize them; they didn't really have any central place to put them if they had the time, and definitely not the extra resources to re-pour the pits and such. So there were men here and men there—never enough in one place for the really heavy jobs, so you had to stop and call one of the other sections in to help. Three service stations. The shops at the car dealerships. The repair and body shop that had belonged to Bernie and Cy Fodor.

Billy Nelson whistled. "Here a lift, there a lift, everywhere a lift, lift."

No, not everywhere. If there had been lifts everywhere, the crew's life would have been a lot simpler.

Billy looked up at the circular metal saw with exasperation. These days, when a heavy truck had body damage beyond what you could fix, there wasn't much to cannibalize. They took thin sheets of steel rolled down by Saalfeld, cut pieces, bolted them together, dropped the result down over the motor and frame, and bolted it on. The results weren't sleek. They looked like rolling boxes. But they still rolled and they still transported material that the military needed. At least, it was easier to fix windows and windshields onto the straight steel pieces—just fit in a straight piece of glass cut to fit. Forget about wipers; forget about windows that went up and down. Forget about safety glass, for that matter. Just keep the truck rolling and box in the cab so the driver won't freeze in winter. Even if you were only moving at twenty-five miles per hour, the wind chill generated by a truck was a lot worse than what the driver of a horse and wagon was exposed to. So build a new body for that truck parked next to the shop.

If the metal saw didn't quit on you, that is. The metal saw had just quit. He could hear a hum in the engine, over all the rest of the noise in the shop, but the blade wasn't turning.

"Cut the power to the saw, but leave it on to the winch, so we can bring it down and take a look to see what is wrong." His regular partner, Foster Caldwell, flipped the switches, brought the saw down, then came over to help, flipping the power to the saw back on before he came.

"The motor, actually, sounds okay." Foster and Billy looked at it. The power just wasn't turning the saw. "Problem has to be in the connection."

They knew the routine. This wasn't the first time it had happened. Turn off the power to the saw. Unscrew the bolts, take off the blade, lay it aside. Turn the power to the saw on again. Work back, step by step, through the wiring, power on, power off, until they found out where the problem was. A lot of this wiring was nearly burned out, they way they'd been overloading it. They found bad spots in the insulation all the time.

"Unscrew the bolts" was easier said than done. Somebody had screwed them on with a power driver the last time. And somebody, not necessarily the same somebody, had taken the head that fit these nuts to use at one of the other shops, probably, because it sure wasn't in the tray here. Muscle power time. Billy stuck his head out of the bay and yelled, "Merton." Merton Smith was their muscle. He'd worked for the mobile home moving company before the Ring of Fire. He'd been wrestling double-wides ever since he dropped out of high school.

It took all three of them, and a jerry-rigged extension to the wrench, to get the fourth bolt loose. Still, that took less time than sending someone to visit every other Mech Support shop location looking for the right head. Which somebody might have put in his pocket and taken along on a run to Jena, for all they knew.

"What are the odds that Bobby took the head?" Foster asked.

"No bets," Merton answered.

The others saw to it that Bobby Jones made most of the delivery runs. He'd complained about it, once, that the others were shirking the unloading and reloading at the other end. Foster had said, "Well, it's this way. If I go out, then Billy and Merton have to put up with you. If Merton goes out, then Billy and me have to put up with you. If Billy goes out, then Merton and me have to put up with you. If you go out, then none of us have to put up with you."

It took Bobby three days to work though the logic of that one, figure out that he'd been insulted, and decide to be offended. But Bobby was that kind of guy. If one of the other shops called and asked for that size head, he'd just put it in his pocket, intending to drop it off, not bothering to check it out, and forgetting to take it to the guy who wanted it. It would stay in his pocket until someone asked for it, or until he found it when he washed his overalls and brought it back.

We're very sorry, but this content is only available to current subscribers.

Perhaps you just need to log in.  If you're already logged in, please check if your subscription has expired by looking here.

If you're not already a subscriber you need to know that our columns and editorials are free, along with a few other items, but almost all stories and all downloads are paid only.

If you want to read the entire gazette, you need to either subscribe here, or purchase a download of any single issue at the Baen Books e-book store  or at

- The Grantville Gazette Staff