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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Owl Taxi » CHAPTER XIX THE ABDUCTION
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Though he had seen him but on the one occasion, Greg had more confidence in Estuban than in any of the taxi-drivers, good fellows though they were. He much desired Estuban's help on the dangerous expedition he had planned, and waited for him as long as he dared. But one o'clock drew near without any sign of him, and in the end Greg had to go without him.

He was in difficulties when it came to choosing a man in Estuban's place. They all wanted to go; each man loudly and shamelessly proclaimed his own superior qualities. Greg finally decided to take them all. It was possible he might need them, and if he did not, they could remain in concealment in the cab. He swore them by a mighty oath to obey him in the smallest particular.

Meanwhile during the evening the old car had received a grooming like an athlete before his supreme race. From all the cabs in the yard the most nearly new tires were borrowed; every nut was screwed home, every wire tested. With black grease they smudged the license plates so that the numbers were illegible. Nor did they fail to test the extension ladder. Afterwards it was put back in its paper and tied on top of the flivver.

On the way up-town all rode inside. The front window was allowed to remain down, so that Hickey could share in Greg's instructions and exhortations. While he talked to them Greg was sizing up his men. They showed their excitement in characteristic ways. Bull Tandy smoked deep, and there was a calm and delighted smile on his face; Blossom whistled incessantly through closed teeth; little Ginger twisted on his seat like a restless schoolboy. "I'll pick Bull for the closest work," thought Greg.

When they got to the corner of Columbus Avenue and Eighty-third Street, Greg said to Hickey: "Drive all the way through the block and come back again, so that we can get a look over the whole ground."

It was a long block down to Amsterdam Avenue, more than a furlong. A slight hill rose towards the middle of the block, and descended beyond. As Greg had expected the neighborhood was absolutely deserted, scarcely a light to be seen the whole way. Number 411 was near the beginning of the block, the Columbus Avenue end. All the windows were dark, but a dim light showed in the doorway, likewise in the doorway of the connecting house.

Half-way through the block, that is to say, at the top of the little hill, they came upon a stationary figure, an officer, but one whose gray coat differed from the uniform of the city police. He was leaning back with his elbows propped on a stone post, one heel cocked up on a step, and his club dangling from its thong.

The hearts of all went down at the sight. Uncomplimentary epithets were directed towards the innocent officer in the performance of his duty.

"Damned unlucky!" muttered Greg.

At the end of the block Greg directed Hickey to turn the corner and stop, until they could decide what was best to do. The broad, unbeautiful expanse of Amsterdam Avenue was as empty as the side street. It was like the avenue of some dead city, where the lights had been left burning.

"What did you make of him?" said Blossom. "Not a regular cop."

"Worse," said Greg, "a private patrolman. I had forgotten that the residents of a private block like this often club together and hire a man from an agency to keep watch. He'll be there all night, damn him!"

"What are you going to do?" asked Ginger anxiously, "give it up?"

"Not on your life!" said Greg grimly. "Let me think a minute."

All four of them waited with blank minds for Greg to give them a cue.

"We must create a diversion," he said finally.

"A what?" asked Bull Tandy.

"Attract his attention elsewhere; draw him off."

"I get you," said Ginger. "Get up a fake burglary or something down at this end of the block."

"Exactly. That'll be your job: yours and Blossom's."

Ginger's face fell. "Have a heart, Greg! S'posin' we git five years apiece for it."

"You don't have to be the burglars. You can be the honest citizens who discover the crime."

Ginger looked relieved. "Lay it out to us, partner."

"Listen carefully. First give Hickey three minutes to get back through Eighty-fourth to Columbus again. Then you show yourselves in Eighty-third Street. Choose the last house on the north side. I don't know who lives there; that doesn't make any difference. Well, run out into the middle of the street and look up at the windows. Run up the front steps and down again. Run in and out the area way. The idea is to give plenty of action, see?

"Well, the cop is standing up at the top of the hill where he can look down both sides his beat. He'll soon get on to you two milling around down there, and he'll run down to see what's the matter. You tell him you were walking up Amsterdam when you saw a peculiar light in the basement of that house, and looking through the windows you saw a fellow snooping around with a flashlight; handkerchief over his face, hat pulled down—you know the stuff. And afterwards he went up-stairs. Fix up the story any way you like. You can tell a good story, Ginger.

"The cop will probably send you around to watch the rear while he rouses the household and makes a room-to-room search. It's hard on the people, but it will bring a little excitement into their dull lives, anyway. As soon as you get the cop all worked up you make a quiet sneak, see? I only need a couple of minutes to pull off my trick. Long before the excitement down here dies down, we'll be safe away."

"We're on," said Ginger and Blossom.

Greg, Hickey and Bull drove around the block and returned to the corner of Columbus and Eighty-third, where they stopped the cab before turning into the side street. They could still see the private patrolman at the top of the hill and they waited. Beyond him they could not see for the hill, and they had the satisfaction of knowing that once he ran down the other side he could not see them.

Presently they chuckled to see him straighten up and dart away down the hill. The scheme worked.

No one was in sight within the four blocks that they commanded. They cut the ladder from its wrappings and Greg and Bull took it, leaving Hickey with the flivver. The engine was left running. Hickey was to run up to them when Greg gave him a flash.

Greg and Bull were each armed with two short lengths of wire. Reaching the two houses, Greg took 411 and Bull 413. Running down the area steps they wired the iron gates of the basement entrances fast to their frames. Then springing up their respective stoops they wired the two handles of the double doors together. All this took but a minute, and effectually safeguarded them against a surprise from within the houses. This done, Greg carried the little ladder up the steps of 413 and planted it under the bathroom window. The street remained empty and silent.

While he worked Greg kept the tail of an eye on the windows of Amy's room. He was not rewarded by a sight of her face. He hoped she was watching from farther back in the room. The bathroom window was raised an inch or two from the bottom. Bull stood on the sidewalk with the handkerchief in one hand and the flashlight in the other, ready to signal to Hickey the instant Amy appeared.

When the ladder was in place Greg nodded to Bull—all this was carried out in the full light of the moon and of a street lamp almost in front of the house—and Bull let the handkerchief flutter to the pavement.

They waited. The seconds passed. The suspense was almost more than mortal nerves could bear. Greg holding himself taut was glad that it was Bull he had with him. Bull had no nerves. The seconds passed, and there was no sound or movement from above. The sickening conviction took shape in Greg's breast that something had gone wrong. Amy of her own free will would never keep them waiting at such a juncture.

Suddenly Bull with a warning gesture darted noiselessly down the area steps. At the same moment Greg heard brisk footsteps coming up the street. Somebody had turned the corner from Columbus Avenue. Greg swiftly telescoped the ladder and carried it inside the vestibule. Closing half the storm door, he concealed himself behind it, and lived through a horrible moment or two. Suppose this person were bound for the Sanitarium?

But he passed by whistling softly, all unaware of the drama he had interrupted. Greg had a glimpse of his disappearing back; a young back with a debonair swing to it, a lover, perhaps, returning from his lady.

They had to wait until he mounted the steps of one of the houses above. Then Greg joined Bull.

"Something's gone wrong," he whispered. "I'm going in to see."

"Into the house! Good God!" said Bull.

Greg was no less appalled by the task than he. "Got to be done," he said. "Go down and get Hickey. Let him bring the cab up softly. If we signal he'll come up with the cut-out roaring. It's all or nothing within the next three minutes. If I am not out again by the time you come back with Hickey, you are to follow me in. Are you game for it?"

Bull nodded. "I am, if you are."

Bull left him. Greg looked up and down. No one was in sight. He mounted the steps and brought out the ladder again. In the light of the street lamp he felt as conspicuous as a naked man in a dream, yet to put the light out would have only been to call attention to the spot where it had been. To tell the truth he had no stomach for this job, but his resolution held him to it. Amy depended on him.

With a thumping heart he mounted the ladder. It creaked like a rusty wheel. But no matter if he waked the entire block now, he had to go on. At the top he put his hands under the window and threw it up. There was no time to open it with care. It would all be over in a minute anyway. He flung a leg over the sill and entered the bathroom. A rapid survey of the windows across the street revealed no scared white face watching him.

The door into the bedroom was closed. He opened it as softly as he could. The light from the street lamp below was thrown strongly on the white ceiling, and its reflection filled the room. He could see perfectly. The sight was photographed indelibly on his brain; Amy lying motionless in her bed beside him, and across the room Bianca sitting up in a cot bed, her eyes fixed upon him wide with terror. She was too terrified to scream; a little gasping cry escaped her; she had no breath for more.

Greg sprang across the room, and clapping a hand over her mouth, bore her back on her pillow. His lightning glance at Amy told him she had been drugged, and he felt no compunctions in dealing with this other woman. Bianca struggled but feebly; terror held her in a partial paralysis. Greg's ears were stretched for sounds from the house. He heard quick, soft steps approaching the door, and his heart misgave him. There was a little tap.

"Miss, did you call?"

Greg held his breath. He expected her to come in. How could he deal with two women? She did try the door, but it was locked. Greg's pent breath softly escaped. After a moment the steps retreated. He heard the scrape of a chair on the bare floor. Evidently there was a nurse stationed at a desk out there.

Greg glanced over his shoulder at Amy. He was scared by the stillness of her pose, like a lovely effigy on an old tomb. But the sound of her breathing reassured him. It was too loud. Assuredly she had been drugged—not without a struggle, he was sure. The thought of his delicate little Amy struggling in the grip of a brutal strength made his breast burn. He could have strangled Bianca without remorse.

Bianca's struggles were growing stronger now. She was doing her best to bite him. It seemed to Greg that Bull had had plenty of time to get Hickey. What could be the matter? Suppose Bull's nerve failed him when it came to entering the house. Suppose the policeman came back, or another passer-by. Greg's nerves were at the cracking point.

Then he heard the flivver coming. It passed and stopped just beyond the door. In his imagination he measured the steps that Bull must take to the foot of the ladder. Would he dare mount it? He listened in an agony of suspense. At last he heard it creak and dared to breathe a little. But Bull's heart might fail him at the window! His own had failed him! The silence was too long! No! there stood Bull's bulky figure in the bathroom doorway. A little sob of relief escaped Greg.

Greg beckoned him close with his head. Indicating Amy he whispered: "Pick her up. Wrap her well in a blanket, and carry her to the window. Pass her to Hickey. When they reach the pavement, give me a little signal and I'll come."

"There's a fellow seen the ladder and run back for a policeman," Bull whispered hoarsely.

"Then hustle! Hustle!" whispered Greg.

The heavy man moved with a surprising celerity and noiselessness. Rough as was his exterior there was a gentle strain in him; he gathered up Amy as tenderly and unselfconsciously as if she had been a little child.

Bianca had ceased to struggle, and in his eagerness to follow the movements of the other man Greg relaxed his vigilance for a second. With a sudden cat-like twist she freed her face from his hand. A piercing shriek escaped her.

Greg quickly silenced her, but the mischief was done. After a second's breathless silence an uproar arose through the house. The nurse ran to the door and rattled it and beat upon it. Other doors opened and slammed, and running feet were heard throughout the house. In different parts of the house the insane patients infected with the excitement began to scream.

Bianca, encouraged by the sounds of approaching help, began to struggle with redoubled energy. She fought with every fiber of her being, like a cat in a snare. Greg was more than a match for her in strength, but scarcely in quickness. She got her head free again, and screamed:

"They're taking her out of the window. Go to the street!"

A voice in the hall said: "Break in the door!"

Running footsteps receded down the hall.

Bull had disappeared with Amy. It was no time for Greg to linger. If Bull did make him a signal, he couldn't hear it in that uproar. Releasing Bianca he ran for the bathroom window. Springing up, she followed, screaming incessantly.

Bull was barely over the sill, and Greg had to wait. Bianca clawed at his back, but he scarcely felt her. He heard the door of the bedroom go in with a crash, and waited no longer. Thrusting Bianca out of the way, he scrambled over the sill. He and Bull landed in a heap together on the stoop. Greg pulled the ladder from the window, just as hands reached out to grab it.

Hickey, bearing the inert figure of Amy, had all but reached the cab. In both the houses now they were furiously striving to burst open the wired doors. The fat doctor in negligee attire was at a parlor window. Throwing it up, he let himself over the sill, and dropped into the areaway. Other men followed. Greg and Bull ran for the cab. From the corner below came the sounds of more running feet and the shrilling of a police-whistle.

Into the flivver they piled, somehow, anyhow. Hickey had dropped Amy on the seat, and was already at the wheel. As Greg and Bull laid hands on the car, he let the clutch engage. The little car sprang ahead. The policeman, seeing them likely to escape, fired his revolver into the air. Hickey grunted and pulled the throttle lever all the way down. The exhaust roared. A second shot struck the asphalt behind them and ricochetting made a dent in the back of the car. A third shot went wild. Then they passed out of range.

They breasted the little rise, and plunged down the other side. Here they met the private patrolman running towards them. Blossom and Ginger were not to be seen. There was a harrowing moment as they passed this officer. Would he shoot? But if he had a gun, he was too confused to draw it. He flung his night-stick at the wheels of the flivver, but it caromed harmlessly off. They reached the corner and turned.

After a brief mad course around many corners they reached one of the Park entrances. There was no sign of any pursuing car and they slowed down. They breathed freely again.

Greg said grimly: "Well, if you fellows wanted excitement, I hope you're satisfied."

"I am," said Hickey fervently. "Me for a rest cure, now."

"Makes me feel like a boy again," chuckled Bull.


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