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Carroll John Daly
© 2017 Steeger Properties, LLC. Published by arrangement with Steeger Properties, LLC, agent for the Estate of Carroll John Daly.
“I’ll Tell the World” originally appeared in the August 1925 issue of Black Mask magazine.
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the publisher.
“Race Williams” is a trademark of the Estate of Carroll John Daly. “Black Mask” is a trademark of Steeger Properties, LLC, and registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Tom: As promised, 69th C.P.W. Two’s day. Eleven years old. Frantic.
I laid the paper down on my knee and killed another butt. Hot? Man! it was the time for the preachers to cash in by waxing eloquent on the fires of hell. Anybody would believe them. Mid-day, and it would roast the tail off a brass monkey. What wire are you on? Why, Race Williams is talking; private investigator, confidential agent, and—at present—busted gentleman of leisure. Funny that! And you wonder what I did with the heavy roll I froze onto in my last case, up Middlend way?
No, I didn’t exactly endow any charitable institution, though I half wish I had. I shot the money over the gaming tables of Monte Carlo. Silly? Sure! But after all, it was my money, and what kick have you got? Good! let’s go.
My business was as flat as my shadow and my bank balance— No use to squawk—my bank was doing that for me. I was as free from money as an old maid from a pleasant thought.
Things had settled down—you’d think the whole of the world’s greatest city had gone in for reform—that is, my end of it. Though the papers were chuck full of fancy murders, none of them brought money to my pockets. The middle of the summer found the blackmailers motoring through Switzerland, or slipping loose from a little blood money along the Rialto. At least, the high class ones. The others are out of my line. I’m not a penny arcade.
I picked up the paper again and ran my eyes over that personal. Idle curiosity, the glamour of romance, the spirit of adventure; all pretty thoughts, but none of them fitted the keen scrutinizing lamps I put on that little ad. “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed” business was strong with me right then. Far distant, and vaguely too, perhaps, I saw money in those few simple lines. Where there’s an ad like that, there’s trouble. Where there’s trouble, there’s money. And where there’s money—there’s Race Williams.
You’ve no doubt laughed over many such ads—never seen the fear and tragedy that lurks behind them. People don’t amuse themselves paying newspapers to print clever wise cracks. I’ll bet if the truth were told, there was a cry of agony hidden in those words. A novice at the game had composed that secret message; no clandestine rendezvous there; nothing clever about the thing—a pitiful little cry for help. Just one thing, from my point of view. Did Dorothy have money—or, if she didn’t, could she get it from Tom? She was young—the whole framework smacked of immaturity. Not eleven, of course.
It didn’t take me long to dope out the code—if I can natter such a poor attempt by calling it a code. “69th” stood for 69th Street; “C.P.W.” for Central Park West. Not 69 Central Park West—no need of the “th” then. “Two’s day” almost brought a laugh, it was so profound. Tuesday, of course. “Eleven years old” meant the time—eleven P.M., I guess; secret meetings seldom take place in the daytime. And the “Frantic”—no, I haven’t forgotten that. That stood for just what it was—the writer was frightened, in deadly fear perhaps—otherwise, why the word and such a mess of the code? She must have had some understanding with Tom, and at the last moment feared that he wouldn’t make it out. Anybody could read it who had a mind to. I dare say a thousand or more people would sit back and chuckle over the attempt of the girl to conceal her date with Tom. And that would be all—just a superior smile, while tragedy stretched out a hand.
Of course there mightn’t be anything to it. But if Dorothy was married and had written Tom a few letters that had fallen into other hands, then the word “Frantic” took on life—real meaning—a dollar sign. I stretched off with a yawn. I’d be there at eleven o’clock. It was like the old days. Not the first time that I had simply walked out into the night and gathered in the flying American eagles. Slip into the night life of any great city—there’s a tragedy beneath nearly every smile. “Four out of five” wasn’t coined for a tooth paste alone. It works out in my business. Blackmailers don’t have to hunt for victims—their fortunes rest upon selectivity; it’s a little matter of the wisest choice—that’s all. They’d been picking them particularly good lately—you’d almost think there was a pestilence sign on my office door—the hinges were getting rusty from being idle so long.
It was a night for it—none better. The heat had swept down over the city in a dull, damp haze—a sizzling sort of a thing, that got under your coat collar and made an otherwise clear night like the steam room of a Turkish bath.
Central Park West was deserted at ten-thirty, but hundreds of people were stretched out in the park—white-shirted figures who used their coats for pillows. Like Battery Park, it looked—and the policemen gave but a passing glance to the sweltering public; not big-heartedness, I guess. Word had gone out from Headquarters probably—the politicians were playing for the coming election.
Twice I drove from Fifty-ninth Street as far north as Seventy-second Street, and on the second trip I saw her. A slip of a girl—dark skirt, white sweater and white tennis shoes. She just came under the light for a moment—then slipped back into the shadows by the trees of the park and the stone wall which guarded the city’s playground.
The heavy mist helped make Fifty-ninth Street even darker; and on my next trip around, I pulled up in the shadows of the side street, slipped from my car, and made my way carefully along—close to the houses. Dully I made out the girl’s figure across the street, as I peered around the corner.
A minute, two passed, and she did her trick of stepping in front of the light again. Tom wasn’t going to have any excuse for not seeing her—perhaps she didn’t trust him over much—perhaps again she was just nervous. However, it was all new to her—her whole attitude was expectant, eager waiting—a desire to be seen by one person only—yet in her anxiety she placed herself squarely below the light.
This time when she turned and flitted back to the shadows of the trees and the long rough wall, I stepped around the corner, dropped into an alleyway, and took a box seat, to see the whole show. I had no special intentions. From the attitude of the girl and the man who came, I’d draw my conclusions, follow and get her address or his. I’m not above drumming up trade when things are dull. We all have our bad seasons.
Now, from the box seat, I took in the picture. The radium dial on my watch told me it was Ten-forty-five—precedent was broken and it was the lady who waited. An occasional car went by of course—and a few walkers too, but altogether it was a deserted thoroughfare—and a lonely night. If the girl actually went in fear of anyone, as her every movement seemed to show that she did, it was an ideal spot for a bit of dirt.
Long years of association with criminals make my mind active to certain things—now my ears pricked up. A big black touring, curtains tightly drawn, had twice passed beneath that light. I hadn’t noticed that—didn’t notice it until it passed for the third time—slowly it approached the girl—a door silently opened on my side—closed again, and the car quickly gathered speed as a sedan rumbled down from the opposite direction.
Was this Tom? Hardly! Who then? Someone who had an interest in the little figure crouched by the wall, occasionally stepping forth, pausing for a moment beneath the light, and retreating again to the hiding place. I just jerked my finger beneath my soft collar, sucked in some more of the heat-laden air, and waited.
The girl watched for someone, and someone watched the girl. And the big car—it was a cinch she did not recognize it. One as nervous as she would have taken flight long ago—but the girl watched for one thing only—the coming of Tom. That was the way I doped it out.
It all happened quickly—things were in favor of the big car of course. On the fourth time around the block, they got the breaks—the car came before the light as the girl swung around to return to her spot against the wall. A sudden grinding of brakes—a foot through the half open door—a body—a crouching figure who let the big car slip before him to a stop and then ran hurriedly across the street, up on the sidewalk, and clutched the girl from behind.
And me? That wasn’t my cue. A scene there on the public street—the frightened scream of a woman—the pounding of a club upon pavement and the running feet of a gum-shoed, harness bull. Nothing to that!
The girl didn’t scream—a hand had crept from behind and tightened about her—strong fingers slipping over her mouth—another hand pinning her arms to her sides. Then a second figure—a huge bulk of a man who lumbered to the sidewalk and helped the other, I guess.
Guess! Yes, that’s correct, because I didn’t see any more just then. If the girl struggled, I didn’t get it. If she cried out, I didn’t hear it. There was a stifled sound that might have been that—nothing tangible to it, had I not seen the beginning. I had slipped out of the alley, around the corner, and slid behind the wheel of my own car. If the girl and her two captors were going day-day—why, I’d sort of tag along behind. The curtain was going up on the first act.
It looked like my work all right—my night—I fitted nicely into the picture as I turned the corner not over twenty feet behind the big black touring that was slipping up the street—gathering speed—slowing down again, and turning toward Broadway at Seventy-second Street. Nothing to connect them with the abduction of a young lady—no sound—no horrified screams of a woman—just the gentle purr of a high-powered motor that turned up Broadway and made its way leisurely along. A careful householder returning home after a night at the play.
It was a little thing like the lack of speed that made me smack my lips—high-class stuff, that—or an assurance of safety. Gunmen and cheap crooks always dump their best laid plans by overdoing a get-away—you can’t go tearing through the city with your siren shrieking and not expect someone to turn in a fire alarm. This was a quiet, orderly, formal affair. Desperate too—just whisking off a young lady without a sound. Desperate—or the assurance of safety. That might be it—the man had some power over the girl—or some authority that might easily be explained to the police, had they interfered. Yet they didn’t want the police to interfere—witness the quietness, the suddenness and the careful planning of the whole thing. Yes, some place there was a nasty smell to it—the smell of money though—even if it was dirty money.
Rolling through the night didn’t make the air any cooler—it came at me in hot blasts. The car ahead kept its pace—even, leisurely, ever law abiding.
Blue uniforms and brass buttons slipped by at intervals. That must have been hard on the girl if her eyes were uncovered. Imagine being carted away through the night—a heavy hand or a gag across her mouth—hard fingers perhaps biting into soft skin—your fearful eyes staring hopelessly within a few feet of the stalwart representative of the law, and yet powerless to cry out for aid, to stretch forth a hand that might even touch the shoulder of one who with but a raise of his finger could save you.
I nodded grimly. At the end of that ride, I’d step in and take a hand in this game. If these two gentlemen—well, it may have looked pretty soft to them so far—but that little bit of kidnaping was going blooey.
The trailing became a little more difficult when the big touring shot over 145th Street to Riverside Drive. Not much danger of their spotting me there where the lights were not so good. Just the danger of my losing them—that flickering red light ahead. Their speed increased too—just a hardly noticeable pick-up of five miles an hour—say, twenty-five miles an hour, and thirty at times. But others were doing it, some even passing us.
At Dyckman Street, when we again swung back on Broadway, I settled back in the driver’s seat for a long grind. Under the elevated pillars, across the Harlem River at Kingsbridge just down the slight grade, and the car ahead swung to the left. I sat the straighter now—I knew this road—it led to Riverdale Avenue—a lonely stretch there in the daytime, let alone at night. As we shot up the hill at Riverdale Avenue, I snapped off my lights—just the two cars now—no other to lend the respectability of indifference to my flying wheels. Two motors that purred—that was all—yet I dare not leave them too far behind. The vaporous maze of heat helped me for the first time, laying a smoke screen along the road—showing but dimly the tiny flicker of dancing red ahead.
A single light as we passed the police booth there above Spuyten Duyvil—the outline too of a dark head that rested against a chair—the dim flicker of a motorcycle lamp from behind the building—and we were flying past. The head never turned—there was no sudden hum of the racing motor of the police machine—nothing but the same gentle purr—the hum of tires upon the road.