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|Dawn O'Hara||Edna Ferber|
|Page 1 of 5||
A man's figure rose from the shadows of the porch and came forward to meet us as we swung up to the curbing. I stifled a scream in my throat. As I shrank back into the seat I heard the quick intake of Von Gerhard's breath as he leaned forward to peer into the darkness. A sick dread came upon me.
"Sa-a-ay, girl," drawled the man's voice, with a familiar little cackling laugh in it, "sa-a-ay, girl, the policeman on th' beat's got me spotted for a suspicious character. I been hoofin' it up an' down this block like a distracted mamma waitin' for her daughter t' come home from a boat ride."
"Blackie! It's only you!"
"Thanks, flatterer," simpered Blackie, coming to the edge of the walk as I stepped from the automobile. "Was you expectin' the landlady?"
"I don't know just whom I expected. I--I'm nervous, I think, and you startled me. Dr.Von Gerhard was taken back for a moment, weren't you, Doctor?"
Von Gerhard laughed ruefully. "Frankly, yes. It is not early. And visitors at this hour--"
"What in the world is it, Blackie?" I put in. "Don't tell me that Norberg has been seized with one of his fiendish inspirations at this time of night."
Blackie struck a match and held it for an instant so that the flare of it illuminated his face as he lighted his cigarette. There was no laughter in the deep-set black eyes.
"What is it Blackie?" I asked again. The horror of what Von Gerhard had told me made the prospect of any lesser trial a welcome relief.
"I got t' talk to you for a minute. P'raps Von Gerhard 'd better hear it, too. I telephoned you an hour ago. Tried to get you out to the bay. Waited here ever since. Got a parlor, or somethin', where a guy can talk?"
I led the way indoors. The first floor seemed deserted. The bare, unfriendly boarding-house parlor was unoccupied, and one dim gas jet did duty as illumination.
"Bring in the set pieces," muttered Blackie, as he turned two more gas jets flaring high. "This parlor just yells for a funeral."
Von Gerhard was frowning. "Mrs. Orme is not well," he began. "She has had a shock--some startling news concerning--"
"Her husband?" inquired Blackie, coolly. I started up with a cry. "How could you know?"
A look of relief came into Blackie's face. "That helps a little. Now listen, kid. An' w'en I get through, remember I'm there with the little helpin' mitt. Have a cigarette, Doc?"
"No," said Von Gerhard, shortly.
Blackie's strange black eyes were fastened on my face, and I saw an expression of pity in their depths as he began to talk.
"I was up at the Press Club to-night. Dropped in for a minute or two, like I always do on the rounds. The place sounded kind of still when I come up the steps, and I wondered where all the boys was. Looked into the billiard room--nothin' doin'. Poked my head in at the writin' room--same. Ambled into the readin' room--empty. Well, I steered for the dining room, an' there was the bunch. An' just as I come in they give a roar, and I started to investigate. Up against the fireplace, with one hand in his pocket, and the other hanging careless like on the mantel, stood a man--stranger t' me. He was talkin' kind of low, and quick, bitin' off his words like a Englishman. An' the boys, they was starin' with their eyes, an' their mouths, and forgettin' t' smoke, an' lettin' their pipes an' cigars go dead in their hands, while he talked. Talk! Sa-a-ay, girl, that guy, he could talk the leads right out of a ruled, locked form. I didn't catch his name. Tall, thin, unearthly lookin' chap, with the whitest teeth you ever saw, an' eyes--well, his eyes was somethin' like a lighted pipe with a little fine ash over the red, just waitin' for a sudden pull t' make it glow."
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