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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Owl Taxi » CHAPTER VIII THE HOLD-UP
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Hickey took Greg to a restaurant on Third Avenue that to him represented the ne plus ultra in eating-places. It was called "Dick's" on its signboards, or "Greasy Dick's" in affection by its habitués. Whenever a restaurant gets a derisive nickname like this you may be sure it is a good one. Within there was a double row of mahogany tables end to against the side walls, leaving an aisle in the middle up and down which paraded the sociable waiters, who published each man's order to the kitchen in the voices of stentors. Greg and Hickey sat down together; elegantly dressed young gentleman and shabby owl-driver; and such was the democratic spirit of Dick's that none paid the least attention.

They ordered an extra double sirloin with onions, the most expensive dish the bill-of-fare afforded. It was a treat to hear the impressiveness with which the order was transmitted to the kitchen. On the way to the restaurant Greg had stopped at a stationer's to buy a map of Long Island, and while they waited for their meal he studied it.

"What's the program for to-night?" asked Hickey.

"Holding-up a dead-wagon," said Greg with an entirely serious air.

Hickey fell back in his seat aghast. "What!"

Greg laughed.

Hickey shrugged philosophically. "Oh well, you're the pilot," he said. "It's up to you. Remember I'm a nervous man, that's all."

With the point of a fork Greg indicated Silver Pond on the map. "There's our mark," said he. "We cross the Williamsburgh bridge and leave Long Island City by Van Buren Avenue. The rest is easy. The Crematory's not marked on the map but——"

"What's a crematory?" interrupted Hickey. "Anythin' like a creamery?"

"Not much like it," said Greg. "We'll go to the railway station and inquire from there. I suppose I ought to have a gun——"

"Good God! what for?"

"How can you pull off a hold-up without a gun?"

"Then you mean it, a hold-up?"

"Surest thing you know."

"Lordy! Lordy!" murmured Hickey. "What a fellow you are! You'll have to attend to the gun-play yourself. I'm too nervous!"

"I will. I don't mean to use it really, just flash it. We've got a little all-steel monkey-wrench that will give a perfect imitation of an automatic in the dark. That will do. We must fill up the flivver with gas, put in a quart of oil, and let down the top."

"Why the top?" asked Hickey. "It's cold."

"You'll see. We have to have sixty or seventy feet of rope too."

"Is anybody going to be hanged?" asked Hickey with a shiver.

"No. That's to stretch across the road."

Replete and glowing inside, they lighted big cigars and returned to the flivver. Having filled up with gas and oil and bought the rope, they left town by the route indicated. The journey to Silver Pond was without incident. Having plenty of time they let the old flivver roll at her natural gait along the suburban highways. Silver Pond marked the limit of the suburbs in this direction; beyond was the open country.

They reached the station at twenty minutes to nine. The agent's office was closed, but there were several little stores opposite including a bar. Here Greg applied for information.

"What time does the train get here that brings the—er—bodies to the crematory?" he asked, looking as much like a bereaved relative as he could.

"Nine-three," was the reply. "Expectin' somebody?"—this with a sympathetic air.

Greg nodded lugubriously, and the bar-tender shook his head in sympathetic unison. "What'll you have?" he asked, suggesting that therein lay the cure for all woes.

"Rye high-ball," said Greg. "Do they send the bodies right out to the crematory to-night?"

"Sure. When they're notified there's anybody coming the motor-truck meets the train. He'll be along any minute now."

"Oh well, I'll drive on to the crematory and wait for brother there," said Greg.

However, he took time to sip his drink, for he wished to have a look at the motor truck in order to be sure of identifying it on the return trip. In the course of a few minutes it drew up at the station opposite, and Greg marked it, a covered van of the style ordinarily used by undertakers, abounding with black-enameled trappings of woe. Greg observed that for its duty on the night roads it carried a search-light over the driver's head. This would effectually serve to distinguish it from other cars.

The bar-tender came to the door and pointed out the road they should take. "Three miles," he said; "follow the macadam and the telephone poles. You can't miss it. It's their own road that they built. Nobody wants to live down that way."

In order to avoid exciting remark Greg got in the body of the cab, and they started. As soon as they were out of sight of the saloon, he swung himself around the running board to the seat beside Hickey.

"The train is due in fifteen minutes, supposing it's on time," he said. "Give him five minutes to load up, that's twenty minutes' start we have. Time to run all the way out to the crematory, choose the best spot along the road and come back to it."

"I like this job less and less," said Hickey with feeling. "I'm a nervous man."

"I'll play the heavy villain's part," said Greg calmly. "You only have to be property man."

"Suppose there's two of them?"

"There was only one on the driver's seat just now."

"He might have a friend coming out on the train."

"Sure, and he might have a hand grenade in each pocket."

"Oh, Lor'!" said Hickey, taking it quite seriously.

It was a clear night, moderately cold, and the moon was shining. This was fortunate for them, since the old flivver, designed exclusively for street travel, carried no headlights. By the light of the moon Greg searched the roadsides for the spot best suited to his purpose. For that matter one place was about as good as another along that lonely road. They passed no houses. Two hundred yards from the station they plunged into the woods, and continued through woods the most part of the way. What fields they passed were evidently the back fields of farms that fronted on other roads. The road was smooth, level, and with but few turns in it.

In a few minutes a cleared hollow or vale opened up before them with the crematory buildings grouped around a pond gleaming wanly in the moonlight. The surroundings were laid out like a park. The main building with its tall slender chimney had the look of a power house or a pumping-station; but knowing what it was, this chimney had a gruesome fascination of its own.

"All that is mortal of many a man has gone up that stack," said Greg.

Hickey shuddered. "I'll take the worms for mine," said he.

"Back again now," said Greg. "I have the spot in mind."

About half way back Greg ordered Hickey to stop. "That tall tree ahead on the right. Draw up in the shadow beneath it. There's a bend in the road a hundred yards ahead. Far enough to give him time to stop, but not far enough to give him the tip to turn back."

"I don't like this job," wailed Hickey, for perhaps the dozenth time. His teeth were chattering.

Greg, who was not exactly an experienced highwayman himself, felt a little shaky and dry in the mouth, but if he had let Hickey see that the driver would surely have collapsed. Greg maintained the assumption of perfect calm.

"You have nothing to worry about," said he. "If anything goes wrong you were simply hired by me to bring you out here. You had never seen me before. And when we got here I forced you to do my bidding at the point of a pistol, see?"

"Suppose the driver has a gun?"

"Mine will be out first."

"But yours is only a monkey-wrench."

"He won't know that."


"Look here, you're wasting time. Put out your side-lights, take the tail light off your car, and then come help me stretch this rope across the road."

They got the rope ready between tree and tree, and then let it lie in the road in case another car came along before the one they wished to stop. Greg tied a handkerchief in the middle of the rope to make sure it would not escape the driver's attention. He had the red tail light ready as a further summons to stop.

"That clothes line won't hold him up no more than a cotton thread if he wants to drive her through," objected Hickey.

"He won't know but what it's a steel cable."

"I don't like this job."

Greg made haste to keep him busy. "Cover your radiator, and let the lap-robe hang down over the license number. Tie a rag over the rear license-plate. Let down the front window. Detach the meter and lay it on the floor."

"What's that for?"

"It'll be in our passenger's way on the ride home," said Greg grimly.

For nearly a minute before it hove in view they heard the approach of the crematory car through the night. He was driving her hard.

"It's a six," said Greg listening with a professional ear. "He's got a bum spark plug. She's running on five legs."

"I'm not the man for this job," moaned Hickey. "I'm sick!"

"Hide yourself behind the flivver. I'll call you when you're wanted."

Hickey obeyed this order with alacrity.

Finally the rays of the searchlight showed around the bend ahead, jigging up and down with the movement of the car. To Greg it seemed as if she would never turn the corner. His heart was beating like a pneumatic hammer. He clenched his hands to keep them from trembling. He had the dummy pistol in one.

Meanwhile rope, handkerchief and red light were in place. Finally the dazzling white light swung around the corner and illumined them. Power was shut off. The great car came to a stop with the scrape of locked wheels on macadam. Greg stepped out of the shadow. He had turned up his collar and pulled down his hat-brim in the time-honored style.

"Get down from your seat," he commanded.

It appeared he had a cool customer to deal with. "Sure, Mike!" was the undisturbed reply. The man jumped down.

"Hands up!" said Greg.

He was obeyed. At the same time the cool voice said: "Sorry, old man, but you've stuck up the wrong train. I ain't carrying no consignment of gold this trip. Thirty-four cents, a pocket knife with a blade missing and a dollar watch, that's the lot. You're welcome to it for the experience."

Greg grinned in return. This was a victim after his own heart. "Much obliged," he answered, matching the other's tone. "Keep the change. This hold-up isn't meant for you personally."

"What is it then?"

"I just want to give your passenger a transfer."

"Gee! A stiff! I suppose you're one of these here now medical students then."

"If you like."

"I didn't think they was so hard-pushed for stiffs nowadays. Well, take your choice. A stiff more or less is nothing to me. We get hardened to 'em in this business."

Greg ordered Hickey to start his engine. "Run her into the road," he said, "and back her up to Charon's boat."

While Hickey was performing this evolution Greg and the crematory driver continued to converse amicably.

"Is the door locked?" asked Greg.

By way of answer the other threw the doors open. Two pine boxes of significant shape were revealed one above the other.

"Take your choice," said the driver.

"Did you read the labels before you loaded them in?" asked Greg. "I want the one marked Alfieri."

"Oh, the dago. He's on the bottom. He's the heaviest."

"Have a cigar," said Greg. "Have a couple."

"Much obliged, Jack. Certainly square of you. Wouldn't mind being stuck up any night if they was all like you. Life is slow in this neck of the woods."

They lit up and puffed comfortably together.

"Sorry I'll have to report my loss as soon as I get in," said the driver. "You see the station agent helped me to load up and he's a cranky cuss, not a regular guy like you and me. What's a stiff more or less to a reasonable man! But you see the relatives kick up such a dust."

"That's all right," said Greg. "We have to take our chances of course."

"Tell you what I'll do though. I'll give you five minutes or so before I drive on."

"Thanks, that'll help."

By this time Hickey had his car in place. They ran out the lower of the two pine boxes; with his flash Greg made sure that it was the one they wanted; then they hoisted it over the lowered top of the flivver. The driver helped right willingly. When they got the box in place one end rested on top of the back seat and the other end stuck through the front window. When they put up the top of the car, only the front end of the box showed, and this they rendered less conspicuous by draping it with the black lap-robe.

"You'll have to lean forward to see around the end," said Greg to Hickey. "I'll ride behind."

They screwed on the tail light, gathered up the rope and all was ready for the start.

"Well, so long, fellows," said the crematory driver.

As soon as they started Hickey's spirits rebounded, and he began to brag quaintly. "Say, that guy was polite all right. He had to be! I was watching him. One ugly move on his part and I'd a dropped on him like a load of brick."

"Oh, you're a dare-devil all right," said Greg dryly.

Hickey subsided.

At the Silver Pond station they took the main road from Long Island City by which they had come, but beyond the village they took the first side road to the left, and aided by the map made their way cross country by various unfrequented roads to one of the highways leading to Brooklyn.

"It's a good thing the undertaker's in Brooklyn," said Greg. "They'll probably telephone in and have the bridges and ferries watched."

"They'll trace us to-morrow," said Hickey nervously.

"I doubt if anybody will be sufficiently interested. The crematory will report to the undertaker; the undertaker will endeavor to communicate with his client, and will find that he gave a fictitious address. The matter will go no further. De Socotra's gang is not likely to learn that we have the body until we tell them ourselves."

Reaching the outskirts of town they chose the less frequented streets. Concealed though it was, that square-ended box was of a curiously suggestive size and shape, and both chauffeur and passenger were nervous. However no one seemed to notice them; or if they did, the cab had passed out of reach before action could be taken. One suspects that taxi-cabs often race through the streets at night with queer burdens.

The address given them was in one of the more important streets of the Park Slope district away on the other side of the borough. A garage was maintained in connection, and it was with fervent relief that they rolled inside and the door was closed behind them. They were received by a younger replica of the clayey-faced man, who exhibited a studied imitation of his father's professional manner. Everything was made easy for them here: though nothing was said about it, they were evidently expected. But it cost Greg a pretty penny.

They returned to New York. At the bridge entrance they were stopped, and a policeman stuck his head inside the cab. But there was nothing in the least suspicious about the fashionable young gentleman riding there, and the officer apologized. He declined to state what he was looking for. Perhaps he was afraid of ridicule.

Greg had Hickey drive him to the office of the Sphere newspaper where, in plenty of time for the morning edition, he inserted two advertisements in the personal column. The first read:


Pick T7011 to win. Look in the place you know of.


These few simple words were the result of a long process of selection and elimination on the way back to town. Greg assured himself that the girl would understand, but that no one else in the world could.

The second advertisement read:

"Red Head:

Meet me Southwest corner Twenty-third and Fifth Ten A.M.

Green Tie."

This of course was merely camouflage for the benefit of any one who might have intercepted the note that Greg had sent up at the Stickney Arms.

"Home, James," said Greg to Hickey. "We'll celebrate our success by treating ourselves to a whole night's sleep."

"Thank God for that," said Hickey. "I'm ready for it."


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