Richard Bostwick Reminiscences
Cab Driving Stories
Just A Country Trip
Shortly after the beginning of my all night shift, I was at my usual station, the cabstand at the Northern Pacific depot. Weather-wise, it was one of those nice warm summer evenings which was the cause of my being idle. I was leaning against the front fender of my cab, when I was approached by a stocky built, bewhiskered red-eyed man who appeared to be in his late fifties.
The cheap suit he was wearing was quite soiled and wrinkled, as though it had been slept in for several nights. He asked me what I would charge to drive him to a farm that was located near a small village about 30 miles south of town. The current rate for country trips being .30 cents per mile, I told him it would be about $10.00. This seemed to suit him, for he said, “Let's go.” Now I was sure this guy was just coming off of a several-week drunk, so I told him I would have to have the fare in advance. He hesitated for a minute, then he admitted he was broke but promised I would be paid as soon as we got to the farm. He claimed the farm belonged to him and it was being run by a close relative of his whom had been caring for it while he was away. He said that I needn't worry about my fare, as this relative would pay me upon arrival. I told him I would have to have some collateral to guarantee my fare.
He then fumbled around in his pockets and produced a beautiful Elgin pocket watch. It was one of those being advertised at the time as being ‘as thin as a silver dollar.' He told me to take the watch and keep it until his relative paid me. The value of the watch was worth many times the price of the cab ride. I admit, this was not a very sound proposition, but business was slow so I agreed. I put the watch in my pocket and drove around to the baggage room where I picked up his luggage. That consisted of a small handbag and a footlocker. I loaded them into the backseat as he got in the front seat with me, and we headed south towards our destination.
He was real quiet for a few miles, and then for the sake of conversation I asked him if he had been away for long. He said that yes, he had been. In fact, he said he had just recently been released from prison. There was no more conversation as we sped along over the freshly graveled road. All country roads were gravel surfaced in those days.
We finally came to a detour sign, and the daylight had gone, it was now quite dark. The detour shunted us off onto nothing more than a trail through tall brush along the rivers' edge for several miles. My passenger finally asked me if I didn't want to know why he had been sent to prison. I told him it was none of my business and that I really did not care, but as long as he had brought it up, why had he been sent to prison? His reply was, “For murder.” Boy! Here I was on a country back road at night, miles from anywhere, with an ex-con who had just been released from prison for murder-and me with his valuable pocket watch in my possession.
He went on to tell me that his time spent in prison had not been wasted, for while he was there he had learned a good trade. He then turned around, leaned over the front seat, opened the lid of his footlocker and took out a couple of objects. He then said, “See, I learned to be a tool maker-here is some of my work.” I took my eyes off of the narrow trail long enough to take a quick look. There in the dim light from the dashboard I saw his bewhiskered grinning face. In one hand he held a bright shiny meat cleaver, and in the other hand a large butcher knife.
This gave me quite a start and I thought it best to humor him. So I complimented him on his handy work. Much to my relief he placed his ‘tools' back in his footlocker just as we returned to the main road. It was not long until we reached the small village we had been headed for. Upon arrival, I stopped at a curbside gas pump. I asked one of the fellows who were loafing about for directions to the farm that my passenger claimed was his. I then drove on through this small village and followed the directions I was given. After a few miles we finally reached our destination. The farmhouse was all dark with no sign of anyone being about. Soon a dog started barking, and after a minute or so a light came on in one of the upstairs' windows. My passenger told me to blow my horn, which I did. This resulting in a fellow raising the upstairs window and hollering down, asking who we were and what did we want?
My passenger called him by name and identified himself. Soon, the downstairs lights came on, and the farmer came out of the house followed by a woman. They both had on bathrobes, and appeared to be the same age as my passenger. After a round of greetings and warm welcomes, the farmer invited us both into the house. I was busy unloading the footlocker and bag from the backseat. I declined the invitation as I had to get back to town. My time was valuable. I turned to my passenger and asked him for my fare, which came to an even $10.00. He said he first wanted his watch back. I reminded him of our agreement-that he was to pay me my fare, and then I would give him his watch back. He turned to the farmer and asked him for the loan of $10.00. The farmer said he did not have $10.00.
My ex-passenger then seemed to get quite excited and told me that I was not going to leave his farm until he had his watch back. The situation was getting kind of touchy. What I should have done in the first place was have him leave the watch at our cab office in town. He could have retrieved it later in exchange for the cab fare either by mail or in person. At this point, the woman spoke up and said, “Please, let's not have any trouble. I'll pay you whatever he owes you.” With that, she went on in to the house leaving us three men standing there by my cab. There was nothing more said until she came out of the house. By the headlights of my cab, she counted out $10.00 in change and a few $1.00 bills. I guess it must have been her egg money. I then gave my passenger his watch and I got out of there in a hurry-feeling lucky that the situation had turned out as well as it had.
As I arrived again in the village on my way home, I decided I would stop and have a sandwich, for as of yet I had not had any supper. While seated at the counter of a local café waiting for my order, a middle-aged fellow came in who was wearing a marshal's badge on his vest. He sat down along side of me and asked me where I had picked up the fellow I had in my cab when I first went through town. I told him, then asked if he knew the fellow. He replied that he did, saying that the fellow had been raised in that area and in his youth he had been quite a hell raiser.
After further conversation, the marshal went on to tell me that just about twenty years ago, my passenger, his mother and an older brother owned and operated the farm I had just came from. It seems his mother became sick, and after a short illness she died. The following summer his older brother also became ill, and he too passed away. This left the younger brother in sole possession of the farm. Somebody got suspicious, and the authorities had an autopsy performed on the brother's body. The results showed a strong trace of strychnine. This prompted the authorities to exhume the mother's body, which also showed traces of the same poison.
The younger brother was indicted on two counts of murder. He pleaded innocent, but during the following days of the trial it was proven that he had purchased the poison in a neighboring town shortly before his mother became ill. This was enough evidence for the jury to find him guilty as charged. His sentence was 20 years to life. After explaining all of this to me, the marshal got up and left. I finished my coffee, climbed into my cab and headed for home.
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