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Two Taxis
About the Author: A five-time Derringer Award finalist and 2020 Shamus Award nominee, William Burton McCormick's fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Black Mask, the CWA Anthology of Short Stories: Mystery Tour, The Saturday Evening Post and elsewhere.  He is the author of the historical novel Lenin's Harem. William tends to set his stories in Europe where he lived for seventeen years. 

“Tell the gentleman his taxi is here, Jean-Paul.”

“Which gentleman, Monsieur Rault?”

“The fellow in the black pinstriped suit with a red tie.”

Jean-Paul scanned the hotel lobby. To his astonishment, two men matched Monsieur Rault’s description.

“Do you mean the gentleman at the coffee bar or the one sitting near the elevator, Monsieur Rault?”

“Figure it out for yourself, Jean-Paul. For once.”

After such censure, Jean-Paul bothered Monsieur Rault no more. He left the concierge desk and trekked over to the man at the bar.

“Did you order a taxi, Monsieur?”

“Yes,” answered the man in the tone of an entitled foreigner. Jean-Paul could not place the accent.

“It is here.”

The man adjusted his fedora’s brim over a wide, sweaty forehead, rose from his seat and allowed Jean-Paul to direct him through the lobby exit to a taxi waiting in the street. Jean-Paul got the cab’s door, received no gratuity for his efforts, and watched the car pull out onto the Promenade des Anglais.

As the taxi sped away, a woman on the walkway performed a doubletake. She stood for moments afterwards in the hot Mediterranean sun, contemplating what she’d seen. Then with a determined expression, she marched past Jean-Paul into the hotel entrance.

He followed her through the glass revolving doors and found the woman standing just inside, appraising the lobby. When her eyes discovered the remaining man in a black pinstriped suit, a possessive smile emerged on her face. She quickly took a seat beyond the fountain, straightened her yellow sundress carefully and ordered coffee from the waitress. Jean-Paul observed her glancing through the dancing fountain waters towards the man in the suit, he apparently ignorant of her attention.

Odd, but after eleven years working in the resort cities of the Côte d›Azur, Jean-Paul had seen far odder things. Perhaps, the woman was the sort who lounges in the opulent hotels of Nice looking to meet wealthy gentlemen. Little harm if no one makes a fuss.

He returned to the concierge desk.

Monsieur Rault was now on duty at the check-in counter and Jean-Paul worked alone until an American voice called his attention up from his notes.

“Where is my taxi?” demanded the pinstriped man. “I ordered the damned thing fifty minutes ago.”

“Fifty minutes, Monsieur?” Jean-Paul rifled through his papers, his preferred ruse to buy time. “There must be some mistake.”

“I’ll say there is.”

“One moment, please.”

Jean-Paul walked over to confer with Monsieur Rault.

His response was predictable: “Why can you never handle any matter yourself, Jean-Paul?”

“I did not order the taxi. It is not my responsibility, I can only—”

Shouting called their attention.

Near the revolving door, the American stood gripping the woman in the sundress by the wrist, shaking her vigorously as she tried to pull away.

“Give it to me!” he shouted.

“I’ve taken nothing,” she answered in English with a British accent.

“Hand it back. Or I’ll break your arm.”

“You’re mad!”

“What exactly is the difficulty?” asked Monsieur Rault as he walked over to the fighting guests, Jean-Paul trailing behind.

“This woman picked my pocket, stole something priceless to me.”

“He’s a liar. I simply was waiting my turn for a concierge. I never touched the man’s pocket. He’s a looney.”

“What exactly do you allege stolen?” asked Monsieur Rault patiently.

“A silver cat broach with gemstones for eyes. Worth a fortune. And this thief knows that.”

“An odd thing to keep in one’s pocket,” said Monsieur Rault. “And unwise.”

The man stood silent, face turning purple with anger.

“The woman was, as they say, ‘casing’ the man, Monsieur Rault,” said Jean-Paul, hoping to seem relevant to his superior. “She watched him constantly since setting foot in the door.”

“Are either of you guests at our hotel?” asked Rault.

Neither was.

This story appears in our SEP2020 Issue
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Reader Discussion

I enjoyed the story even if close to the end, it became apparent who the actual serial killer might be. That aside, fun story with a tasty ironic ending. I am tossing out my pin-stripped suit as I write.
By Bill Engleson

I love a just deserts story. Snappy and witty with a bit of noir.
By Nancy Hetherington

Fun story! Nicely written.
By Warren

Absolutely fantastic! Very smooth transition.
By Mickey Cherry

Magnificent! Nice twist at the end. Great story!
By Tina Jude

Fun story! Also nice to use characters from places a lot of writers never think of ...
By Donald J. Bingle

Good story that moved well right up to the ironic ending. Good job!
By Elizabeth Varadan

I sympathized with Jean-Paul, loved the character. I had a feeling about the two men dressed alike, and although I kind of saw the ending coming, I was not disappointed. Great job and especially liked the cat broach.
By Frances Dunn

Thank you for the kind comments. Glad you all enjoyed this little tale of taxi mishaps.
By William Burton McCormick

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