"prince and broadway." fortescue opened the cab door for carol and she got in, then he followed and closed the door.
"corner of prince and broadway?"
"yes, that will do nicely."
the cab moved off. "nicely," said the cab driver. "you don't hear that word much any more. you used to hear it all the time."
"yes," fortescue agreed. "words, like everything else, go out of fashion, i am afraid."
"like that hat you're wearing. don't get me wrong, it's a great hat, i love it. but it's not quite the latest style, you know?"
"a little wider in the brim than is the current fashion, you mean?" fortescue answered politely.
"but i'm fond of it."
"it's got sentimental value, you mean?"
"a bit, perhaps."
" i can understand that. i'm a sentimental guy myself. the least little thing, i start crying like a little girl. my wife, my mother, they make fun of me, but it's just the way i am."
"sentiment is perhaps unappreciated in today's world."
"that's nicely put. very nicely. i had an uncle who used that word all the time -nicely - and 'very nice' everything was 'very nice'."
jesus christ, carol thought, is this guy going to flap his gums the whole ride downtown? she wanted to get a word in so she could make her pitch to fortescue about being his girl friday. if she told the guy to shut his yap that might sound rude and were not girl fridays supposed to bright and cheerful at all times?
"i mean," the driver continued, "if you are going to say the same thing over and over it might as well be something nice, right? and what's nicer than 'very nice'?"
fortescue seemed momentarily at a loss. "it would be difficult to improve on, " he finally managed. he looked down and checked the ashtray to make sure it was not overflowing, then produced a cigarette case and offered a cigarette to carol, who accepted it with a smile she hoped was not too big.
where were they? the streets were almost empty, they weren't hitting red lights, and were already in the sixties.
the driver kept talking. "my uncle, he was from the old country. he wanted to talk good, you know, so he settled on something good to say. very nice. and he said it very nicely."
"what old country was that?" fortescue asked politely. he took out a lighter and lit carol's cigarette,then his own.
"what old country? you know, i could never remember, poland, armenia, tabackastan, one of those places."
"albany, maybe? " asked carol.
"ha ha yeah, albany. you, pal, you're from england, right?"
"i am indeed."
"but you been here awhile though, right? you didn't fall off the boat yesterday."
"you're very perspicacious."
"perspicacious - that's another good word."
"did you have an uncle who said everything was perspicacious?" carol asked.
"ha ha. no, miss, i did not."
but that seemed to shut him up! they drove on in silence.
now carol was not sure how to begin her spiel. fortescue had said they could "discuss" it, but he was just staring out the window as the streets and buildings flashed past.
"prince and broadway, here you go."
carol opened her eyes. she had dozed off. fortescue was staring at her.
"i'm sorry," he said. "i was wool-gathering. had you wanted to be left off around washington square somewhere?"
"oh no, no! this is fine."
"are you sure? i can have this fellow take you back a few blocks."
"no, no, let's - let's just get out." she could see the driver's face in the mirror, with a stupid smirk on his face.
"very well, then." fortescue handed a bill to the driver. "you may keep the remainder."
"hey, thanks, pal. thank you very much." the driver looked back at carol, like he was trying to think of something smart to say, but she gave him the evil eye and he forever held his peace.
carol got out after fortescue, and the cab moved off.
there was an "open" sign and a dim light in the window of a coffee shop across the street. otherwise the street was dark and deserted, although there was a halo of light and some noise from a couple of blocks away.
carol looked around. "you live here?"
"oh, no. my office is here. on the top floor of that building over there. i just want to check a message that may have been left for me."
carol looked up at the dark window. "a message? what, you've got a secretary or something and she's up there now?"
"ha, ha. no, nothing like that. someone may have left a message and shoved it under the door."
"yes, i am afraid some of my clients - when i have clients - are partial to such communication, rather than the post or the telephone, which they seem to distrust."
"can i go up with you?"
fortescue blinked. "oh, yes, you said something about sleeping on the divan."
"please, can i? at least for tonight? and then tomorrow we can talk more."
"ah - look here. why don't we go over to the coffee shop there? maybe we can hash this out."
they crossed the empty street. fortescue pushed open the door of the coffee shop. a barely audible bell announced their arrival.
there were no customers inside, and no one behind the counter.
"hello, " carol called. "anyone home?"
"i am sure there is," fortescue told her. "the owner himself is always here this time of night. not the most communicative fellow, but dependable as -"
in the shadows in the back of the shop, a pair of brown shoes was sticking out from behind the counter.
they were attached to a gray faced man in his forties, lying on his back with an expression neither peaceful nor angry.
carol looked over fortescue's shoulder at the man. "is he dead?"
"very much so."
"maybe he had a heart attack or something."
"no, he's been stabbed. and quite expertly at that." fortescue stood up and moved behind the counter.
now carol could get a better look at the dead man. " you come in here a lot?"
"oh, yes. quite often. with clients, or by myself."
"he looks nasty. like a nazi general or something."
fortescue continued to look behind the counter. " one never knows. he was never spontaneously forthcoming about his background. more likely he lived across the bridge in brooklyn his whole life."
"are you going to call the police?"
"yes. he must have a phone here somewhere, though i don't recall him ever using one."
"it's right there, up on that shelf."
"oh, right. thank you. i just hope my old - friend, detective mullihan is not on duty." fortescue sighed. "but of course he will be."
"will he say something like ' i've got you this time, limey'?
"yes, i am all too afraid he will." fortescue picked up the phone. "operator, may i please have the police."