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فصل 08

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Chapter eight

The East Village

Our search area was wide - everything between Fourth Avenue and Avenue D, then everything between East Houston Street and East 14th Street. Within that area are fourteen streets and eight avenues. Now do the math - that makes around eighty blocks. The good news was that if O’Neill was staying in a hotel in the area, like Van Zandt said, we didn’t have too many places to check. Most of the hotels are either along Third Avenue or the streets off it.

There were two problems. First, what sort of hotel would O’Neill choose? Somewhere busy, on a crowded street where he wouldn’t be noticed? Or would he prefer somewhere quieter and more basic, with less activity? A place where it would be easier to watch and listen. Second, how would we find out if he was staying there? Would he check in under his own name and how could we get the hotel receptionist to tell us if he was there? Hotel receptionists don’t give information about their guests to complete strangers.

So we had a plan - I’d say I had a business meeting with O’Neill. To help receptionists believe the story, I’d asked Stella to produce some company information for “Patrick O’Neill Accounting”. There was a photo of O’Neill on the front, which I’d hold so the receptionist could see his face.

Time after time at hotels I introduced myself and spoke to the receptionists. “Excuse me, my name’s Marley. I have a meeting with Patrick O’Neill. Would you call his room to tell him ‘I’m at reception?”

We had no luck at the more expensive places, which were full of tourists and business people. After asking at a few, we knew what sort of answers to expect: “I’m sorry, sir. Do you have the correct hotel?… I wish I could help you, but…”

Hour after hour, our search area grew wider. We had moved away from Third Avenue, deeper into the center of the East Village, toward Alphabet City.

At some of the cheaper places, the receptionists were less patient: “We got nobody by that name staying here, mister… Look, mister, I just work here. It’s not my job to remember faces.”

We continued until early evening. It was six thirty, not long before sunset, and the sky in the west was growing pink. We just had one or two more places to check in Alphabet City. The next hotel, the Madigan Inn on Avenue B, looked like an ugly, dirty place, but the receptionist was helpful.

I asked the usual questions and made sure that she could see O’Neill’s photo. Then the surprise - I could see from the look on her face that she knew something. “Sure I know the guy,” she said. “But not by the name of O’Neill. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say…”

I showed her my investigator’s license and said, “The truth is, this guy’s life is in danger. I’m working for his family and we need to find him quickly, before someone else does.”

She believed me and turned to check the computer. “Yeah, there he is,” she said. “He stayed for one night and checked out yesterday. The name he gave was Brendan Touhey.”

“Can you tell me anything more?” I asked. “Did he have any visitors? How did he spend his time?”

“Well, he asked for a room on the street. That seemed to be important. He didn’t have any visitors and spent most of the time in his room. I think he was watching the street. Or that’s what I thought when I looked up at his window.”

“Thanks,” I said. “You’ve been really helpful.”

“You could ask at our other hotel,” she said. “I could phone ahead to tell them to expect you. It’s the Metro, on Avenue C between 4th and 3rd.”

“Please. If you would,” I replied.

As we left, I said to Joe, “At last we’re getting somewhere. I think I know what he’s doing. Just staying a night at one place, then moving on.”

Joe suddenly stopped in front of the door to the street. “Nat, you see that car just across the street?”

“The black one?” I asked.

“That’s it. I think I’ve seen it before. Outside your office, but I couldn’t be too sure,” Joe went on.

I studied the car carefully. A Lexus, which costs serious money. Three guys with dark glasses were inside. It was starting to get dark and I’ve never liked guys who wear sunglasses at night. I had a horrible feeling that those people meant trouble.

Then the driver looked toward us and the car quickly moved along the avenue. In the poor light, I couldn’t read the license plate.

“What do you think, boss?” asked Joe. “Are they following us:

The streetlights had now come on. Under their yellow light I could see the answer to Joe’s question. On the road beside Joe’s car was a knife. There was no air in two of the tires so it was impossible to drive.

Now I realized what was happening. Those guys had followed us, hoping we would lead them to O’Neill. They knew we were checking hotels, and the Metro was the last one in the area. They wanted to make sure they got there first.

We ran across to Avenue C, but we were losing valuable time. The Metro, like the last hotel, looked as if nobody cared for it. The receptionist, though, was friendly and welcomed us with a smile.

“Hi, I’m Gina,” she said. “You guys didn’t need to hurry. We got-“

I stopped her and said, “The receptionist at the Madigan just phoned ahead and told you to expect us. We’re looking for Patrick O’Neill. He’s in danger and might be using a different name. Has anyone asked for him?” I showed her O’Neill’s photograph.

“Oh yes,” said Gina. “He’s staying here, but under the name of Bernard Delaney. Nice, quiet guy. He stays in his room most of the time. There’s something I don’t understand. You’re the second group of people asking about him. The others went up to his room five minutes ago, but they just left.”

“What others?” I shouted.

“Three guys in black suits and dark glasses,” she replied. “I thought they were the ones I was expecting.”

“Did O’Neill leave with them?” I asked.

“No,” Gina replied.

“Oh my God! Give me the room number quick!” I shouted. “I hope we’re not too late!”

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