Guy Garrick by Arthur B. Reeve - HTML preview
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Garrick looked from one to the other of his visitors intently. Here was an entirely unexpected development in the case which stamped it as set apart from the ordinary.
"How did the driver manage to explain it and get away?" he asked quickly.
McBirney shook his head in evident disgust at the affair.
"He must be a clever one," he pursued thoughtfully. "When he came into the garage they say he was in a rather jovial mood. He said that he had run into a cow a few miles back on the road, and then began to cuss the farmer, who had stung him a hundred dollars for the animal."
"And they believed it?" prompted Garrick.
"Yes, the garage keeper's assistant swallowed the story and cleaned the car. There was some blood on the radiator and hood, but the strange part was that it was spattered even over the rear seat--in fact, was mostly in the rear."
"How did he explain that?"
"Said that he guessed the farmer who stung him wouldn't get much for the carcass, for it had been pretty well cut up and a part of it flung right back into the tonneau."
"And the man believed that, too?"
"Yes; but afterward the garage keeper himself was told. He met the farmer in town later, and the farmer denied that he had lost a cow. That set the garage keeper thinking. And then, while they were cleaning up the garage later in the day, they found that cartridge where the car had been washed down and swept out. We had already advertised a reward for information about the stolen car, and, when he heard of the reward, for there are plenty of people about looking for money in that way, he telephoned in, thinking the story might interest us. It did, for I am convinced that his description of the machine tallies closely with that of Mr. Warrington's."
"How about the man who drove it?" cut in Garrick.
"That's the unfortunate part of it," replied McBirney, chagrined. "These amateur detectives about the country rarely seem to have any foresight. Of course they could describe how the fellow was dressed, even the make of goggles he wore. But, when it came to telling one feature of his face accurately, they took refuge behind the fact that he kept his cap pulled down over his eyes, and talked like a 'city fellow.'"
"All of which is highly important," agreed Garrick. "I suppose they'd consider a fingerprint, or the portrait parle the height of idiocy beside that."
"Disgusting," ejaculated McBirney, who, whatever his own limitations might be, had a wholesome respect for Garrick's new methods.
"Where did you leave the car?" asked Garrick of Warrington. "How did you lose it?"
The young man seemed to hesitate.
"I suppose," he said at length, with a sort of resigned smile, "I'll have to make a clean breast of it."
"You can hardly expect us to do much, otherwise," encouraged Garrick dryly. "Besides, you can depend on us to keep anything you say confidential." "Why," he began, "the fact is that I had started out for a mild little sort of celebration, apropos of nothing at all in particular, beginning with dinner at the Mephistopheles Restaurant, with a friend of mine. You know the place, perhaps-- just on the edge of the automobile district and the white lights."
"Yes," encouraged Garrick, "near what ought to be named 'Crime Square.' Whom were you with?"
"Well, Angus Forbes and I were going to dine together, and then later we were to meet several fellows who used to belong to the same upperclass club with us at Princeton. We were going to do a little slumming. No ladies, you understand," he added hastily.
"It may not have been pure sociology," pursued Warrington, good- humouredly noticing the smile, "but it wasn't as bad as some of the newspapers might make it out if they got hold of it, anyhow. I may as well admit, I suppose, that Angus has been going the pace pretty lively since we graduated. I don't object to a little flyer now and then, myself, but I guess I'm not up to his class yet. But that doesn't make any difference. The slumming party never came off."
"How?" prompted Garrick again.
"Angus and I had a very good dinner at the Mephistopheles--they have a great cabaret there--and by and by the fellows began to drop in to join us. When I went out to look for the car, which I was going to drive myself, it was gone."
"Where did you leave it?" asked McBirney, as if bringing out the evidence.
"In the parking space half a block below the restaurant. A chauffeur standing near the curb told me that a man in a cap and goggles--"
"Another amateur detective," cut in McBirney parenthetically. "--had come out of the restaurant, or seemed to do so, had spun the engine, climbed in, and rode off--just like that!"
"What did you do then?" asked Garrick. "Did you fellows go anywhere?"
"Oh, Forbes wanted to play the wheel, and went around to a place on Fortyeighth Street. I was all upset about the loss of the car, got in touch with the insurance company, who turned me over to McBirney here, and the rest of the fellows went down to the Club."
"There was no trace of the car in the city?" asked Garrick, of the detective.
"I was coming to that," replied McBirney. "There was at least a rumour. You see, I happen to know several of the police on fixed posts up there, and one of them has told me that he noticed a car, which might or might not have been Mr. Warrington's, pull up, about the time his car must have disappeared, at a place in Forty- seventh Street which is reputed to be a sort of poolroom for women."
Garrick raised his eyebrows the fraction of an inch.
"At any rate," pursued McBirney, "someone must have been having a wild time there, for they carried a girl out to the car. She seemed to be pretty far gone and even the air didn't revive her-- that is, assuming that she had been celebrating not wisely but too well. Of course, the whole thing is pure speculation yet, as far as Warrington's car is concerned. Maybe it wasn't his car, after all. But I am repeating it only for what it may be worth."
"Do you know the place?" asked Garrick, watching Warrington narrowly.
"I've heard of it," he admitted, I thought a little evasively.
Then it flashed over me that Mrs. de Lancey was leading the crusade against society gambling and that that perhaps accounted for Warrington's fears and evident desire for concealment.
"I know that some of the faster ones in the smart set go there once in a while for a little poker, bridge, and even to play the races," went on Warrington carefully. "I've never been there myself, but I wouldn't be surprised if Angus could tell you all about it. He goes in for all that sort of thing."
"After all," interrupted McBirney, "that's only rumour. Here's the point of the whole thing. For a long time my Association has been thinking that merely in working for the recovery of the cars we have been making a mistake. It hasn't put a stop to the stealing, and the stealing has gone quite far enough. We have got to do something about it. It struck me that here was a case on which to begin and that you, Garrick, are the one to begin it for us, while I carry on the regular work I am doing. The gang is growing bolder and more clever every day. And then, here's a murder, too, in all likelihood. If we don't round them up, there is no limit to what they may do in terrorizing the city."
"How does this gang, as you call it, operate?" asked Garrick.
"Most of the cars that are stolen," explained McBirney, "are taken from the automobile district, which embraces also not a small portion of the new Tenderloin and the theatre district. Actually, Garrick, more than nine out of ten cars have disappeared between Forty-second and Seventy-second Streets."
Garrick was listening, without comment.
"Some of the thefts, like this one of Warrington's car," continued McBirney, warming up to the subject, "have been so bold that you would be astonished. And it is those stolen cars, I believe, that are used in the wave of taxicab and motor car robberies, hold-ups, and other crimes that is sweeping over the city. The cars are taken to some obscure garage, without doubt, and their identity is destroyed by men who are expert in the practice."
"And you have no confidence in the police?" I inquired cautiously, mindful of his former manner.
"We have frequently had occasion to call on the police for assistance," he answered, "but somehow or other it has seldom worked. They don't seem to be able to help us much. If anything is done, we must do it. If you will take the case, Garrick, I can promise you that the Association will pay you well for it."
"I will add whatever is necessary, too," put in Warrington, eagerly. "I can stand the loss of the car--in fact, I don't care whether I ever get it back. I have others. But I can't stand the thought that my car is going about the country as the property of a gunman, perhaps--an engine of murder and destruction."
Garrick had been thoughtfully balancing the exploded shell between his fingers during most of the interview. As Warrington concluded, he looked up.
"I'll take the case," he said simply. "I think you'll find that there is more to it than even you suspect. Before we get through, I shall get a conviction on that empty shell, too. If there is a gunman back of it all, he is no ordinary fellow, but a scientific gunman, far ahead of anything of which you dream. No, don't thank me for taking the case. My thanks are to you for putting it in my way."