小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Owl Taxi » CHAPTER III GREG'S SECOND FARE
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】

He made the rest of the run to the Hotel Tours in a high state of anticipation. That charming vivid face traveled between him and the asphalt on which his chauffeur's gaze was fixed. His delight in the prospect of the coming meeting was not unmixed with dread—for her. He shuddered to think of the risks she ran wandering about town alone in the small hours of night. Surely any one could see through her disguise at a second glance. Her character was written in her eyes—ignorant, innocent and daring. Clearly she had little idea of the dangers she was braving.

His fare paid him liberally without demur and disappeared within the hotel without giving Greg a second glance. Greg went on for half a block and drew up beside the curb. Presently another cab came to a stop behind him, and the seeming youth got out and paid the driver. He (she) made a feint of entering the nearest doorway, and when the second cab had gone on, returned, and slid into the seat beside Greg as a matter of course. She had much the air of a confident child who expects to find the whole world friendly.

"We'd better go back where we can watch that hotel," she said. "I don't think he intends to remain there long."

Greg was utterly charmed by that "we." She took it for granted that he was willing to help her. Well, she should not be disappointed. Little did he care what it was all about; he was on her side anyhow. He burned to assure her of this, but prudence suggested it might be better to let things be taken for granted. He was glad it was to him she had applied; he trembled to think of how she might have been deceived in another taxi-driver. It did not occur to him that she might, like children generally (she was scarcely more than a child) have an intuitive perception of character.

He turned his cab around and they watched the entrance to the Tours from across the street.

She plunged into the middle of her business without any preamble. "You crossed on the Twenty-third Street ferry. I couldn't find a cab just at that moment, so I had to follow on foot. So I lost you when you drove away on the other side. Where did you take him over there?"

"Nowhere," said Greg. "It appeared he was just looking for a drink and when we couldn't find a place we came back to New York."

"Is that all?" she said, disappointed and puzzled. "What reason did he give for getting out of the cab on the way over?"

"No reason. He seemed to be a little drunk."

"Drunk? I can't understand it. He's not a drinking man."

"Who is he?" asked Greg with natural curiosity.

She gave him a look of appeal. "Don't ask me. I can't tell you the truth."

Her speech had an alluring quality of strangeness. It was not that she spoke with an accent exactly; it was more like the speech of an American who might have lived long among foreigners. Greg could not read her race from her features; she had great brown eyes with a fleck of red in them when they caught the light; her skin was creamy. He could not tell the color of her hair because of the cap that she had pulled completely over her head in the style that youths affect, but he guessed it was dark red to match her eyebrows. She had a soft and babyish mouth that did not seem to go with the fiery eyes. Greg guessed that the eyes expressed her character, while the mouth had just been thrown in to make her adorable. Her voice was too deep for her size, but that was no doubt assumed. Sometimes when she forgot it scaled up. She was displaying a boyish nonchalance that was altogether delightful and funny. To tease her Greg offered her a cigarette. She declined it.

"I smoke a pipe," was her astonishing reason.

She did not, however, offer to produce it.

As she had forecast, the tall foreigner did indeed presently issue from the Tours, and hailed one of the cabs waiting below the entrance. Greg cranked his engine. The other cab turned around at the corner and passed down beside them. Greg took care to be hidden behind his cab as the other passed. Climbing in he followed it as a matter of course.

"What time do you suppose it is?" asked his companion.

"About three."

"What a night!" she murmured.

"You're dead right!" said Greg grimly. He remembered what he carried behind and shivered.

They sped down town over the smooth pavement of Broadway. That erstwhile busy street was deserted now except for an occasional motor car like themselves roaring up or down with wide open throttle and except for the ubiquitous cats prowling diagonally across from curb to curb on errands known to themselves. The street lamps shone down like moons as indifferently upon solitude as upon crowds; all the shop fronts were dark.

Greg, it need hardly be said, was fairly eaten up with curiosity concerning his passenger, yet he could not question her. Her air of friendliness and confidence disarmed him. Questions implied a doubt. She volunteered no information about herself, but seemed to feel the necessity of saying something.

"Perhaps I ought to be riding in behind."

"Oh, no!" said Greg very quickly.

"Well, I thought it might look odd, my sitting here in front."

"Why shouldn't a taxi-driver be giving a friend a lift, especially at this time of night?"

This seemed to make her uneasy. She said: "All right; but you know I'm hiring you really, just like anybody."

Greg felt a most unreasonable hurt. "I didn't ask for any pay," he said gruffly.

She was distressed. "Oh, you mustn't let your feelings be hurt! I've got to pay you, you know. You don't know anything about me."

Greg answered with a look that meant: "I'd like to!" But she did not take the hint. Aloud he said: "I won't take anything."

She let the matter drop.

The cab they were following drew up at the great Hotel Meriden at Eightieth Street.

"I thought so," murmured the girl. "He is stopping here. The chase is over for to-night. Drive on for a block or two, then come back. It will give him a chance to get to his room."

Greg obeyed. As they returned and circled in front of the hotel she said:

"Don't stop at the entrance. Go on to the end of the building and wait there."

They came to a stop opposite the last of the great windows that lighted the lobby and the lounge of the Meriden. Greg wondered, if the chase were over, what they were to wait for. The answer came directly, conveying an important bit of information obliquely.

She said, pointing to two lighted windows on the third floor of the hotel: "I daren't go in until he goes to bed. Do you mind if I wait here with you?"

"Do I mind—!" said Greg.

His tone was perhaps a little too warm. She glanced at him suspiciously. Greg tried to look unconscious. Meanwhile he was revolving the significance of what she had just said. So she lived here too, and was, she implied, a member of the tall foreigner's household. It occurred to Greg that her speech resembled the man's: they used the same phrases as people do who live together. Certainly in no other respect was there any likeness. Greg frowned. He resented the thought that man and girl might be related.

She broke in on his thoughts by saying in her abrupt, boyish way: "You don't seem like a common taxi-driver."

"Well, I haven't been one long," said Greg smiling.

He reflected that the surest way to win a person's confidence is to offer one's own, and he proceeded to tell her the story of his meeting with Hickey Meech, and how they had changed places, stopping short, however, of the grim dénouement.

The girl was charmed. "Oh, I like that!" she cried bright-eyed. "I'm glad you didn't want to leave America! I love America. I'm an American."

He wondered a little what impelled her to state this fact so defiantly, as if it had been called in question. It cheered him though, for certainly the man they had been following was not an American. So they could not be close relatives.

"I'm so glad it was you!" she went on.

"So am I!" he said smiling.

"A person like you can understand."

"But I understand nothing."

"Ah, don't ask me!" she said with a painful air. "I can't explain. It's a family affair!"

That put Greg back where he had started from. He was silenced but not satisfied.

"Suppose I need you again?" she asked. "Would you be willing——?"

"Try me!"

"How can I get you?"

"Well, I haven't any address yet. The man I bought the cab from told me where he kept it, and I suppose I'll hang out there. Have you anything to write it down with?"

She nodded, and produced a tiny note-book and pencil.

"Elmer Fishback," he began.

She wrote it down, smiling to herself at the comical sound of the syllables.

"My right name is Gregory Parr," he hastily added.

"That's better," she said.

He continued: "Care of Bessie Bickle—he didn't say whether she was Miss or Mrs."

"I'll just put B. Bickle."

"Gibbon Street south of Houston."

She wrote it all down.

All this while Greg was wondering how she expected to get across the lighted lobby and by the hotel desk without discovery. The question tormented him. Finally he could contain it no longer.

"You can't go in—like that," he blurted out.

She instantly mounted on her high horse. "What do you mean?"

"Well, you know—anybody could see——" he stammered, "anybody could see that you were—well, that you were not a boy."

She sharply averted her head from him. He saw the crimson tide creep up from her neck.

"I don't see what reason you have for saying that," she murmured.

He strove stumblingly to put her at her ease. "Oh, it isn't your clothes. They're all right. You look out o' sight! But—but—well, a girl is different. It's not altogether a matter of looks. I mean the charm of a girl sticks out all over you."

She ignored this. "I'm not going through the lobby," she said abruptly, "but through the service entrance. I bribed the watchman on the way out, and he will let me in again."

Greg breathed more freely. A constrained silence fell between them.

"I'm not altogether a fool!" she presently burst out sorely. "I didn't venture out until long after dark. And I kept away from all brilliantly lighted places. Nobody found me out but you."

"That's all right," said Greg. "But suppose—well, suppose I hadn't been, well—decent."

"I would have known exactly what to do!" she said with an intimidating air that made him smile broadly. "But I knew you were the instant I looked at you," she added.

"Thanks," said Greg.

She was still sore. "I don't see how you could have guessed!" she went on. "At home when we have theatricals everybody says I make a perfectly dandy boy!"

"That's different," said Greg smiling.

"What must you think of me!" she murmured in an humbler tone.

"Nothing but what is good," he said quickly. "I would be a fool if I thought otherwise. I was only anxious for you because I supposed you did not know the risks you ran."

"I knew," she said. "I armed myself."

Greg was both amused and thrilled at the diminutive size of her and her unquestioned courage.

"It seemed necessary for me to do it," she explained further, "though after all I have accomplished nothing. I did it for some one—some one I cared for very much."

A sharp little pang of jealousy shot through Greg's breast.

Another cab drew up at the entrance to the Meriden in their rear. Greg's companion stuck her head out to see who it was. She quickly drew it in again.

"Two of the gang!" she said excitedly.

"What gang?" asked Greg involuntarily.

"His gang, the politicians. They've come after him, I suppose. We'll know in a minute."

Leaning forward in front of his companion Greg saw two men entering the Meriden, one of whom carried a heavy suit-case. They were inconspicuous-looking men, soberly dressed, both under the average height, one stocky, one thin. They had a foreign look like the man they came to see. As they passed back into the hotel they came within range of the big window beside Greg's cab, and the two could sit back and watch them at their leisure. They proceeded to the desk and made an inquiry. The clerk took down his telephone receiver. After a brief colloquy over the 'phone, he nodded to the two men, who thereupon seated themselves near by.

"He's coming down-stairs to them," murmured the girl.

Sure enough, Greg's former fare, the tall foreigner, presently stepped out of the elevator. He had his hat and overcoat on and carried a valise.

"Going out again!" said the girl excitedly. "Going away, it seems!"

When the men met no greetings were exchanged; it was as if they had but lately parted. The three moved away from the vicinity of the hotel desk engaged in low-voiced conversation. They came to a stand not far from the window through which Greg and the girl were watching them. Here they stood talking with guarded expressions, never thinking of looking out into the dark street.

He who carried the suit-case exhibited it to the tall man, who thereupon called the single sleepy boy on duty at this hour and gave instructions. The boy took the suit-case and the tall man's own valise and, proceeding to the entrance, summoned a cab; the bags were put inside. Meanwhile the three lingered a moment to finish their talk. The heavier of the two newcomers took from his breast pocket a rather bulky little black book and handed it over to the tall man. The latter's eyes visibly gleamed with satisfaction as he hastily ran over the contents. He pocketed the book.

At sight of the book a startled exclamation escaped from the girl beside Greg. "Why—why, that's my uncle's book! How did they get it?"

Greg marked well the look of the book. It seemed to be a "loose-leaf" note-book with a number of miscellaneous papers of different sizes and colors, caught in on a patent fastener. It was somewhat long and narrow, of a size that would just fit a man's breast pocket, and it was bound in black seal leather.

After the transfer of the book the three men started to move towards the hotel entrance.

"Shall we follow?" asked Greg.

"Of course!" she said.

Slipping out of his seat, he cranked his engine in order to be ready for them. The three men got in the waiting taxi, and it came on past them bound downtown. Greg fell in behind them, but not close enough to excite suspicion. Down that broad empty street one could see for half a mile.

The girl did not speak again during this part of the journey. She was staring ahead of her under knitted brows; the softness was all ironed out of the babyish mouth and her little hands were clenched. Greg wondered mightily what grim thoughts could be filling a creature so sweet and delicate. He felt that he could aid her twice as efficiently if he knew what it was all about but he would not risk a rebuff by asking again.

At Seventy-second Street the cab in front stopped beside the subway station, and Greg slowed down while they watched to see what the men would do. The two short men alighted and disappeared down the stairs. The cab went on.

"We follow the tall man?" asked Greg.

"Certainly. The others don't matter."

Straight down the long empty course of Broadway they were led at top speed; through the mile of automobile warerooms, now dark, and the half mile of theaters and restaurants where a few lights still maintained a dingy semblance of festivity, including the strange blue glare of the little photograph stores, which for some mysterious reason keep open all night. In this quarter a few revelers were still to be seen, bound more or less homeward, their loud and repetitious assurances of regard only broken by violent quarrels; while owl taxis like Greg's own surreptitiously followed them on the chance of picking up business. Still they kept on down Broadway through the nondescript stretch between Herald and Madison Squares, the Tenderloin of a bygone day.

"He must be bound for Brooklyn," said Greg.

But at Twentieth Street the car in front turned to the east. Greg followed at a discreet distance. In that dark and silent quarter greater care was necessary if they wished to keep the man in front from guessing that he was followed. At Gramercy Park his car turned south again into Irving Place, and they lost it for a moment.

When they cautiously turned the Irving Place corner they saw that the other cab had come to a stop half-way down that short street. Even as they looked the tall man's bags were carried into a building on that side. His cab went on.

They drove slowly past the place where he had disappeared. It was a modest little hotel with a Spanish name: Hotel dos Estados Unidos. Through the windows of the lobby they saw the tall man standing by the desk, apparently being assigned to a room.

"What does he come here for?" murmured the girl more and more perplexed.

Greg went on for a block, and turning, came slowly back on the other side. The hotel lobby was now empty, except for the dozing clerk behind the desk. Greg brought the cab to a stop just beyond the hotel where they could still command an oblique view of the lobby.

"What now?" he said.

"I don't know what to say," she murmured. "I can't imagine why he should come here to sleep. I can't believe that he does mean to sleep here. I believe he'll be out again. Let's wait and see."

They continued to discuss the situation, a discussion with little profit as far as Greg was concerned, for he lacked a clue. The burden of her cry was:

"If only I knew what he was up to!"

By and by another cab drew up to the little hotel and a man and woman got out; innocent belated travelers these, who have nothing to do with the story; but the sight of them gave Greg an idea.

"I might slip into the lobby while this man's registering," he said, "and glance over his shoulder. I could find out then what name the other registered under. I could make out to be after a drink of water or something. That is, if you wish me to."

"Yes, do so!" she said eagerly. "It might give us a clue."

Returning to her two minutes later Greg said: "He wrote himself down as Antonio Bareda of Santiago de Managuay."

The effect on the girl was startling. She fell back in her seat. "What! My uncle's name! Has he stolen that too? Oh, something terrible is going on!"

Greg stood with a foot on the running-board at a loss what to say. He finally murmured diffidently: "If you could tell me what you suspect——"

"I can't! I can't!" she cried. "I don't understand it myself. It is too horrible!"

Presently more composed, she said: "One thing is sure, I daren't leave here now. I must find out what he's up to if I have to wait till morning. But you must be tired out. Why don't you get in the back of the cab and sleep until daylight, then I'll call you, and you can relieve me. If necessary I can run the car. We have one at home to save the big car."

Greg reminded afresh of his original grisly passenger felt a cold chill down his spine. That problem remained to be solved. He hung irresolute.

"Go on, get in," she urged, putting her hand around like a chauffeur to open the door.

Greg hastily gripped it. "Don't open it!" he cried.

She looked at him in astonishment.

"The fact is there's something I didn't tell you," he lamely explained. "I've got a sou—I mean a drunken man in there."

"What! You mean we've been carrying him around all night!"

"I guess he didn't mind."

"Oh, bother!" she said. "We'll have to dump him out here. There's no help for it. This is important. It may be a matter of life and death!"

In speaking, she instinctively turned her head and looked through the glass behind her.

"Don't look!" cried Greg cold with horror.

But she only pressed her face closer to the glass. "There isn't anybody there," she said.

Greg astonished threw open the door. It was true. The cab was empty. He gasped; his jaw dropped; he stared at the empty place like an idiot.

"What's the matter with you?" said the girl laughing. "I suppose he just woke up and walked off when you weren't looking."

"He was past walking," said Greg.

His grim air impressed her. "What do you mean?"

"He was dead."

"Dead!" she cried. "Are you mad?"

Greg shook his head. "Dead as mutton!"

Her lip trembled like a child's. "Good heavens, what a city this is!"

"So it seems!" said Greg grimly.

"What had happened to him?"

Greg told her what part of the story he had omitted before.

"Then that was why the man was so anxious to sell you the cab?"

"That was why."

"What has become of it?"

"God knows!"

They looked at each other in dumb amazement. Suddenly the girl's expression changed.

"Did my—did that man who was riding with you know?" she asked sharply.

"No. I told him the same as I told you; that my other fare was drunk."

"I wondered why he rode outside with you. It is not like him to do such things. You are sure he had no hand in it?" she persisted.

This was a new thought to Greg. "Why, no," he said. "How could he? He just happened to pick me up later. But I don't know. Why not? There was something queer about all his actions."

"What was he like, the dead man?"

"A nice old gentleman; plump, smooth-shaven, kindly-looking; looked like a Spanish-American. By Gad! they were all Spanish, weren't they?"

The girl's face gradually sharpened with anxiety now.

Greg went on: "There was a valise under the body; that's gone too."

"Like that you saw in the hotel up-town?" she asked breathlessly.

"The very same! I never thought of it!"

A low cry escaped the girl.

"He had an odd-looking ring on; octagonal red stone with characters cut in it."

"My uncle!" she cried despairingly. "I suspected it! They have done for him! I was too late!" She covered her face with her hands.

Greg gazed at her in silent sympathy.

The hands came down; the soft face hardened. "No time for mourning now. Since I couldn't save him, I mean to avenge him!"

"If I could tell you how sorry I am!" murmured Greg.

"Don't sympathize with me," she said quickly. "It brings the tears back. I must be hard. Help me to be hard."

"I am at your service in all ways," he said simply.

"You see what happened now?" she said.

"I am beginning to."

"I don't know yet how they killed him, but it's clear enough how they disposed of the body. That man learned in some way that it was in your cab. That is why he hired you to take him across the river. The other two men were on board the ferry too. But I paid no attention to them because I was watching him, the man in your cab. When you and he left the cab I followed you up forward. Then the other two went to the cab, of course; searched the body, and then cast it over the rail. You see now why he made you drive on last."

"Of course!"

"Planned with devilish cleverness!" she cried. "That is like him! Why weren't my eyes opened to his true character earlier! But I'll make him pay! If the body is missing, will it be possible to bring the crime home to the murderer?"

"Difficult," said Greg. "It may be found floating in the river."

"How could one find out if it was found?"

"It would be taken to the morgue."

"Watch for it for me, will you?" she cried eagerly. "I couldn't go to such a place. You watch for it, and if it is brought there secure it for me!"

Greg promised. "What do you suppose is his object now in masquerading as the man he killed?" he asked.

"That I can't guess. I know what happened; I don't know what underlies it all. We've got to find out."

Once more that "we" inspired Greg to high deeds.

In speaking of the man they had followed it was natural to turn to the spot where they had last seen him. As he did so Greg saw his very figure reappear once more in the lobby of the little hotel. He called the girl's attention to it.

"Quick! Crank your engine!" she said excitedly. "I thought he would be coming out again!"

The tall man spoke to the clerk, and the latter took down the telephone receiver.

"Calling for a taxi," suggested Greg.

Meanwhile he got his engine started, and climbed into the seat beside her.

"Better move down the street a little way," she suggested. "He might catch sight of us here."

Greg obeyed. They waited in the next block. In due course a taxi-cab drew up before the little hotel, and the tall man got in, without baggage. The cab turned west in the side street. Greg followed at a furlong's distance.

This time the chase was not very long. They were led around the lower side of union Square and down University Place. The first cab turned west in Ninth Street, and crossing Fifth Avenue drew up before a residence on the south side of the dignified, old-fashioned block beyond. Greg kept on to Sixth Avenue.

"Did you get the number?" she asked.


"I thought so. That's the headquarters of the politicians. I have seen him address letters there."

Meanwhile the other cab having dropped its passenger had returned eastward.

"Go back to that house!" ordered the girl. Her eyes were shining like embers. A great excitement possessed her.

They drew up before the door of five-thirty.

"Are you a brave man?" she asked abruptly.

Greg, much taken aback, answered as stoutly as he could: "I hope so."

"Then take this, and bring me back the little black book." She pressed a piece of cold metal into his hand.

For a brief second Greg hesitated. The strange command took his breath away.

"I do not ask it for myself," she pleaded. "The happiness of a whole people depends on it!"

Greg seriously doubted the wisdom of the proceeding, but being young he could not take a dare from a girl. He slipped out of his seat.

"Keep the engine running," he said. "Whom shall I ask for at the door?"

"Se?or Francisco de Socotra."

He crossed the pavement. That which she had thrust in his hand was a small but business-like automatic revolver.


©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533