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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Owl Taxi » CHAPTER VI GREG'S RIVAL
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The nine hours had worked a great change in Hickey. Gone was the dashing air; he drooped in every line of his loose clothes. But he was still grinning. It was a shamefaced, impudent and appealing grin that he bent on Greg.

"H'are yeh?" he said, sidling towards him.

Greg hardened himself against the grin. "By God, you have a cheek!" said he.

Hickey jerked his head towards the flivver. "What have you done with—you know—It?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.

"It's disposed of," said Greg grimly.

"And a good job too!" said Hickey with undisguised relief. "I knew you had a head on you," he added propitiatingly.

"Oh you did, did you? You and I have got a long account to settle, old fellow!"

"Aw, be nice," said Hickey cajolingly. "What have you got to grouse about? You've got the flivver, haven't you? I've got nothing."

"Where's the two hundred you got from me?"

Hickey blew into the empty air. "Gone! Just like that! I'm cleaned out."


"No. Craps."

Greg shrugged.

"Oh, I know I'm a fool," said Hickey with a kind of cheerful despair. "You don't have to tell me. Every man has his own special kind of dam foolishness. Mine's the little bone cubes." He snapped his fingers. "Come you little lubly seben!"

"You've got a nerve to show yourself around here."

"Only place I had to come to," said Hickey simply. "Besides somepin told me you wouldn't be hard on a poor mutt like me,"—this with his inimitable insinuating grin. "Let me sleep awhile in the flivver, will yeh? I'm all in."

In spite of himself Greg began to relent. "If you want to square yourself with me you've got to tell me the truth about how you came by that body," he said.

"You didn't think I croaked the guy, did you?" said Hickey.

"No. But I want to know all the circumstances. A lot has happened since you unloaded it on me."

"Ain't got much to tell," said Hickey. "I see by the papie last night that the Allianca from Central American ports was sighted off the Hook and was going to dock about ten o'clock. Well, when one of them little vessels docks at night it gives us fellows a show, see? for the swell drivers won't come down-town for it. So I goes to the pier and I draws two of them dagoes; one was him that I threw in with the flivver, see? and the other was a small slender fella with a little black mustache. The old guy couldn't speak no English; the young fella talked for him. He told me to take them to Jersey City by the Twenty-third Street ferry, see?

"Well, I drove up West and up Eleventh Avenue and I was almost to the ferry when I hear a funny noise in the cab behind me, a scrabbling sort of sound. I looked around, and it looked to me like the old boy was having a fit. So I pulled up beside the curb and opened the door. That was in front of the Brevard House where I met up with you later.

"The old fella was hanging over all limp-like with his hands hanging to the floor, and the young guy was trying to pull him up. Say, that young guy was scared, he was. He was so scared he was green. He says to me as well as he could for his teeth chattering: 'My friend is took sick,' says he, 'real sick.'

"Well, I didn't need anybody to tell me that. It seemed natural for the fella to be scared. I helped him boost the old dago up on the seat comfortable. 'Hold him up a minute,' says the young guy, 'and I'll run in here and ast where's the nearest doctor guy.'

"Innocent as a baby, I was. Oh, yes, soft as a rotten orange; soft in the head. I stood there holding the old fella up and the little slender guy he scampered like a mouse into the bar of the Brevard House. I soon saw the old guy was all in. I waited one minute, two minutes, I dunno, and then it come to me like a clap that I'd been sold. I pulled the old guy's legs out a little so's he wouldn't fall over on his face, but then darned if he didn't slide out of the seat on his back and crumple up on the floor. But I slammed the door on him and run into the bar. I ast the bar-keep for the little slender guy. 'Just walked through,' he says, 'went out by the side door.' Say, I was sick!

"Well, that's all there is to it. It give me such a nasty turn I lost me nerve. I couldn't just bring myself to go back to the flivver with that pore old soft floppy corp in the back. Him walking around on two legs as good as myself, not a half hour before! I stood there lappin' up whiskeys and then you come in. We talked—say, maybe I wasn't glad to have somebody to talk to! and one thing led to another, and I had an impulse to sell the whole outfit to you and like a fool I did. I had ought to have carried the corp direct to the station; they didn't have nothing on me. But I always was an impulsive guy. It has been my ruin!"

Greg saw no reason to doubt any part of this story; the details were convincing; moreover they fitted with what he already knew. Evidently the actual murderer, de Socotra's agent, had been thrown into a panic by the cabman's unexpected discovery of the crime. He had fled, and thus de Socotra's plans had been momentarily upset.

"What killed the old man?" asked Greg.

"Search me," said Hickey. "There was no mark on him that I could see."

"Would you recognize the young man with the little black mustache if you saw him again?"

"Would I! Night or day; from in front or behind."

"Our job must be to find him," said Greg. "It'll be worth something handsome to you if you can run him down."

"Who was the poor old guy?" asked Hickey, "a South American millionaire?"

"Not exactly. I'll tell you the whole story in time. Can't stop now. Did you claim my baggage on the pier?"

Hickey shook his head. Diving into his pocket he produced the crumpled claim checks. "I was afraid you'd catch me if I stopped to claim it."

"Good!" said Greg. "These clothes will come in handy. First of all I'll drive to the pier and get them."

Hickey put on a make-believe aggrieved air. "Hold on. What do I get out of this? The clothes are mine, ain't they? Part payment for the flivver."

"That'll be about all," said Greg grimly. "I didn't contract to buy a hearse, remember."

Hickey hastily changed his tune. "All right. All right. You needn't get sore. You can have your old clothes."

"Just the same I'll deal liberally with you," said Greg. "We'll make the old cab do double duty. When I'm sleeping or busy you can run her, and vice versa. If we keep her in repair she ought to provide a living for both. If you'll turn over your takings to me, I'll settle with Bessie Bickle for your keep and credit you with the balance. When you've paid back the two hundred you got from me I'll retire from the concern in your favor. I pay for repairs, and we go halves on oil and gasoline."

Hickey agreed that this was more than fair.

"All right, climb into Blossom's cab and take a sleep while I'm gone. Or get a room from Bessie. I'll have to have a room to change in when I get back. We have a lot to do to-day."

"Do you mind staking me for a little breakfast?" asked Hickey meekly. "I'll take it outside if it's all the same to you. I'd sooner face a she-tiger than brace Bessie between meals."

"All right, jump in, and I'll drop you at the first lunch-room."

In half an hour Greg was back at the yard with his baggage. In the meantime Hickey, following his instructions, had engaged a room by the week from Bessie in their joint interest, and was even now snoring on the bed. Greg carried his things up, and opening his bags proceeded to array himself with particular care. He was bound to remove the impression of a snuffy owl driver that he must have made on a certain party. He sighed with satisfaction at the comfortable feel of his own clothes.

When he was dressed he remorselessly woke Hickey and dragged him to his feet. Hickey assumed the driver's cap and coat that he had discarded. When they passed through Bessie's kitchen on the way out that worthy soul opened her eyes very wide indeed at the sight of the figure of elegance Greg was making. She came to a stand and planted her hands aggressively on her hips. Clearly, fine clothes were associated in her simple mind with questionable conduct. Greg's gloves confirmed her worst suspicions.

"I'll be back in time for dinner," said Greg airily. "I'm not going to let you off those spare-ribs."

Bessie pursed up her lips. "My poor kitchen ain't fitting to serve the likes of you," she said.

"Don't be sore just because I've put on my sporting rags," said Greg. "Need 'em in my business."

"Fine business, I daresay," said Bessie, sniffing.

"I see you think I'm a confidence man at the least," said Greg. "When I come back I'll tell you the whole story while we eat. I want your good will."

"Well, I won't express an opinion on it till I hear it," said Bessie tossing her head. Nevertheless Greg saw that she was pleased.

He got in the cab. "Where to, sir?" said Hickey, touching his cap with a grin.

"First to a pawn-broker's," said Greg. "I've heard that Salomon's on Sixth Avenue is a good place."

"I know it well," said Hickey. He cranked the flivver, and with her customary preliminary back-fires she was off.

Greg got three hundred on the corsage pin. This he reserved for the girl's business, of course. He still had a little for his own expenses.

He next directed Hickey to take him to the Hotel Meriden, without having any very clear idea of what he would do when he got there. He did not know whom to ask for.

As Greg mounted the steps of that great hostelry two porters in blue flannel jumpers, laden with hat-boxes, suit-cases, hand-bags and dressing-cases enough to outfit a fashionable seminary came out of the door followed by three ladies, a maid and a young gentleman. At sight of the lady nearest him Greg's heart almost leaped out of his breast. It was she.

He was almost bowled over. He had much ado not to stop and stare like a booby as they passed. He had told himself of course that she would look very different in her proper clothes, still he was not prepared for this. She seemed to have changed her very soul with her outer attire. In boy's clothes she had been boyish: in girl's clothes she was intoxicatingly feminine. French hat, rich furs and artful-simple suit; coiffure, filmy veil, cunning little boots—much money and more art had been expended to create that perfect effect. And the whole was enhanced by the rose-leaves of youth and the shine of eager eyes. Her hair was dark red and it was her greatest beauty.

Greg was momentarily intimidated by so high a perfection. Girls, if they wish an imaginative lover, should beware not to turn themselves out too much like princesses. She passed him with not a foot between; she must have recognized him, but her glance passed over him as if he had not been. It hurt Greg shrewdly. Surely she might have given him the merest flicker of an eyelash without danger. She was chattering in Spanish.

Next to her was a handsome matron who might have been the girl's mother, only she looked like a Spanish-American, and the girl looked American without the Spanish. At the sight of the third lady Greg was more astonished than ever. It was none other than the vivid dark beauty who had deceitfully made love to him while he lay bound in the Ninth Street house. She recognized him; there was no doubt about that, though she betrayed it by no more than a startled contraction of her glance. From Greg her eyes went with lightning swiftness to the other girl, and Greg forgave his friend for cutting him.

Greg looked hard at the young gentleman of the party. A hot little flame of jealousy scorched his breast, for a subtle deference in the young man's air informed Greg that he was not a member of the family. Which girl was he after then? He had not been among those in the Ninth Street house. In his way he was perfection too; exquisitely slender, arrogant, assured; an Olympian youth. He looked like the slightly exhausted scion of a long Castilian line. Greg's intuition told him that this proud youth would aim higher than the dark-haired beauty who, beside little auburn hair, looked common; and Greg's honest, democratic heart hated him at sight.

All this happened in a breath of course. The party passed to the sidewalk, and Greg went into the hotel.

He went to the desk. To the clerk he said with an offhand air: "I just passed a young lady on the way out who recognized me, and I can't place her. A little lady with dark red hair; she was with two other ladies who looked Spanish."

Greg's appearance was a sufficient warranty to the clerk. "Oh yes, Se?orita Amèlie de Socotra," he said.

Greg's heart went down. "De Socotra," he repeated like a man trying to remember. "And who were the other two ladies?"

"Se?ora de Socotra, her mother, and Se?orita Bianca Guiterrez, a relative, a cousin I believe."

"Ah yes, now I remember," said Greg. "Are they of the family of Se?or Francisco de Socotra?"

"Why yes, his wife and daughter."

Greg's brain whirled a little. He couldn't reconcile this with what the girl herself had told him. He suddenly became aware that the clerk was staring at him.

"Of course," he said, "I met them in Havana. Are they leaving?"

"Yes. Se?or de Socotra was called to Peru last night."

"Peru?" said Greg, dryly. "Peru in Irving Place," he thought.

"And the ladies decided to go up to the Marsden Farms Hotel in Westchester County to await his return."

"The Marsden Farms Hotel; thank you very much."

As Greg turned away from the desk he perceived the Castilian youth re?ntering the hotel. So he had just been putting the ladies in the cab. Greg kept the tail of an eye on him, and when he presently strolled into the bar in his languid high-born manner, Greg followed.

The young man with a condescending air ordered a Bronx cocktail.

"Our drinks are scarcely good enough for him," thought Greg bitterly. Greg himself, a few feet distant from the other, ordered a drink he did not want, and continued to nourish his hatred with watching the other.

The young man sipped his drink quite unconscious of the violent distaste he had engendered in the one near. He asked the bar-tender a question. His English was poor and he had difficulty in making himself understood. It appeared that he wanted to know how long it would take him to drive to Thirty-Sixth Street, as he had an engagement there, and did not wish to start too soon.

Greg intervened and gave him the information he wanted. The young man recognizing a gentleman in Greg, unbent a little, and they fell into chat. He mentioned that the address he had spoken of was the office of the Managuayan consul. Greg pricked up his ears.

"You are from Managuay?" he asked.

The young man nodded.

Greg impelled by his burning curiosity said: "I met two ladies from Managuay once. It was in Havana at the Palacio Presidential."

"Ah yes," said the other, "we all go to Havana in the winter."

"Se?ora and Se?orita de Socotra," said Greg, watching him close.

"Ah," said the other languidly, "my fiancée."


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