Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.

PETER CHEYNEY

BLACK-OUT

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover 2017©



First published in Illustrated, Odham's, London, November 25, 1939
Published under syndication in, e.g.,
The Sydney Sportsman, Australia, March 9, 1942 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-02-17
Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

Click here for more books by this author



Cover Image

"Black-Out." Headpiece from The Sydney Sportsman, March 9, 1942



THE nurse left and Ferdie Phelps turned slowly over on to his back. His eyes, half dimmed with morphia, regained, for a moment, a suggestion of their old twinkle.

"Nice of you to come an' see me, Mr Callaghan," he said softly. "I'm glad you come here. I wanted to say 'thank you.' They tell me that you been lookin' after my missus since I 'ad this smash-up. My number's up an' I know it."

Callaghan looked down the empty hospital ward, dimly lit, the windows carefully shaded for the black-out.

He said, "You'll be all right, Ferdie. Just keep your chin up. You'll pull through."

"Pull through nothin'," said Ferdie weakly. "This is the end of me. An' I must say I never expected to get myself knocked over in a London street by a blinkin' motorcar. Cuss the bloomin' black-out."

He coughed weakly. Then he went on, "Get it orf your chest, Mr Callaghan. I bet you didn't come around 'ere to ask after my 'ealth." He grinned again. "Wot are you after? A deathbed confession? Maybe you thought I'd be feelin' like talkin' about somethin', eh?"

Callaghan said, "Ferdie, I thought you might know something about that Amalgamated Jewellers steal. I always had a sneaking idea that Willie the Mug never pulled that job."

Ferdie shifted a little. He was still grinning. "You don't say," he said. "Look, Mr Callaghan, you ain't tryin' to tell me that you're interested in who pulled it or who didn't, are you? I know wot you're interested in. You're interested in where the stuff is. I reckon that insurance company you work for would give something to know where it is. Ain't that it?"

"That's it," Callaghan agreed.

He lit a cigarette slowly.

There was a pause. Then Phelps said, "'Ooever it was christened 'im Willie the Mug knew wot they was talkin' about. 'E was a mug all right, an' 'e's doin' seven years for somethin' 'e didn't do—see? Willie never pinched that stuff. I know 'oo done it."

Callaghan said, "I always thought Willie didn't do it. He hasn't enough brains. But I think I know who was behind it. It was Narkat, wasn't it?"

Ferdie looked at the private detective for a moment. Then he said, "I'll make a deal with you, Mr Callaghan. Maybe I'll feel better if I do a bit of talkin'. But you got to promise me somethin'. You got to promise me that as well as getting that jewellery back you'll do your best for Willie. You got to get Willie out of quod."

Callaghan nodded. "I give you my word, Ferdie, I'll do my best."

Phelps nodded weakly. Then he muttered, "Narkat was be'ind the whole thing. Willie the Mug only comes into it becos of that girl of 'is. She was a proper wrong 'un. She was two-timin' 'im with Narkat all the time an' the poor mug never knew it.

"Narkat 'ad fixed to get rid of the stuff after it was pinched an 'e'd arranged for Blooey Stevens to crack the safe. Orl right—well the lay was that Blooey was to get the stuff an' pass it to Miranda-Willie's girl—'oo was to be waitin' for 'im on the corner of the street.

"She was goin' to take the attaché case along to Narkat an' Narkat was goin' to get rid of the stuff abroad.

"Stevens got into the Amalgamated Jewellers' place at twelve. 'E 'ad the job finished at a quarter to one. 'E passed the attaché case to Miranda on the corner of Green Street an' she started to walk towards Narkat's flat.

"All right. Well, she was nearly there when she sees Viners, a CID man, 'angin' about outside. She got the wind up proper, I can tell you. She turned about an' streaked through the alley into Long Acre. Viners went after 'er. 'E didn't know a thing, but 'e knew 'er an' 'e thought she was actin' suspicious.

"She went to Willie the Mug's place off Long Acre. Willie come down an' opened the door. She 'anded 'im the attaché case, which was locked, an' told 'im some phoney story about it. She asked 'im to keep it for 'er until next day. Willie said OK an' off she went. She didn't know Viner's 'ad been watchin' 'er.

"Directly she'd gone, Viners went over an' rang the bell. 'E was goin' to ask Willie wot was in that attaché case. Willie 'ad a look out of the window an' saw it was Viners. 'E smelt a rat. 'E broke open the case and saw the jewellery inside, an' the only thing the poor mug thought of was lookin' after Miranda.

"So 'e rushed out to the back an' stuck the case out in the yard underneath a loose pavin' stone. Then 'e went an' opened the door for Viners."

Ferdie grinned. "I reckon you know the rest of the story, Mr. Callaghan," he said. Callaghan nodded.

"Go on, Ferdie," he said quietly.

"Well, next day," said Ferdie, "they find out about the jewel robbery. Viners remembers seein' Miranda with the case. They pull 'er in an' they pull Willie in. An' all Willie is thinkin' of is lookin' after the skirt 'oo 'e thinks is struck on 'im—Miranda.

"Just so's to keep 'er in the clear 'e says 'e pinched the jewellery, an' that the case that Viners saw Miranda carryin' was just some laundry she was bringin' round to 'is place.

"When they ask him where the jewellery is 'e won't say. 'E's afraid to. Becos if he tells 'em an' they find the case under the pavin' stone in the back yard 'e knows that Viners will remember it an' they'll pinch Miranda as an accessory.

"OK. Well, they tell 'im that if 'e says where the jewellery is, 'e'll get off with a short sentence an' if 'e don't he'll get a seven-year stretch. But 'e prefers to be a little 'ero an' keep 'is mouth shut, so 'e gets seven years for somethin' 'e didn't do, an' Narkat, Miranda an' Blooey are laughin' their 'eads off."

Ferdie coughed again.

"There's only one thing that's worryin' 'em," he continued. "An' that is they don't know where the jewellery is. It's still there, in the attaché case under the pavin' stone at the back of Willie's place in Sellers Alley."

Callaghan said, "Thanks, Ferdie. When that jewellery goes back, there'll be a reward. I'll see your missus gets it."

The dying man smiled. "That's OK," he said weakly. "But wot about Willie?"

Callaghan got up. He pressed Ferdie's hand.

"Don't worry, Ferdie," he said. "I'll look after him. I'll be seein' you."

"No, you won't," said Ferdie. "I got my ticket this time. I got to hand in my dinner pail. I know. I got second sight." He grinned feebly at his own joke. Callaghan went out as the ward sister came in.


CALLAGHAN switched off the office lights, pulled aside the curtains before the window and stood looking out into the black void beneath him. Streets which usually twinkled with light were absolutely black.

He began to think about Willie the Mug, Narkat, the big boy—the man who ran the gang and never took any risks himself—and Miranda. Callaghan thought he didn't like Miranda very much.

He stood there looking out into the darkness, thinking. Then he began to smile. He pulled back the curtains, switched on the light, went to his desk and took up the telephone. He rang his assistant's flat.

"Listen, MacOliver," he said. "I'm getting a line on that Amalgamated Jewellers steal. You remember that feller, Jelks, who used to work for us? Go round to his place and knock him up. Tell him I want him to do a little job for me.

"Tell him to wait for me at the works. Then get around and find out where Blooey Stevens is. He'll be somewhere round the West End. Meet me at Jelks's place at eleven. You can tell me about Stevens then."


BLOOEY STEVENS, thickset, overdressed, red-faced, was sitting in the corner of the Blue Horse Club drinking whisky when Callaghan came in. The Blue Horse Club was an underground dive in the region of Shaftesbury Avenue. Tonight it was crowded.

Most of the members who, but for the black-out, would have been engaged in their different questionable occupations, were preparing to stay under cover and do a little quiet drinking. They had heard that the police had made very adequate war arrangements about crooks.

It was eleven-thirty. Callaghan threaded his way between the closely set tables. He sat down opposite Stevens and lit a cigarette.

"Good evening, Blooey," he said. "How are things?"

Stevens looked at Callaghan. His eyes were hard.

"None the better for seeing you," he said. "And I'll be glad if you'll go somewhere else. I don't like private detectives."

Callaghan smiled. "Don't you, Blooey?" he said. "Well, I'd forget that if I were you. I think you're rather a tough Jam."

"Oh yes!" said Stevens.

His voice was insolent. He blew a cloud of cigarette smoke across the table in Callnghan's face.

"You can't bluff me, Callaghan," he said aggressively. "You've got nothing on me."

Callaghan smiled amiably.

"Maybe not," he said. "But I've got an idea the police soon will have. Did you read the paper tonight?"

Stevens said, "No, I didn't, and what's it got to do with you?"

Callaghan put his hand in his overcoat pocket and produced a copy of the evening paper.

He said, "You know I've been trying to get a line on that stuff that was stolen from the Amalgamated Jewellers. Tonight I got the story from Ferdie Phelps. He was knocked down the other day. He's dying. Well—that was that—but the funny thing was that when I got back to the office I read this."

He handed the paper, folded at the stop-press news, across the table.

Stevens read,

"Early this afternoon, taking advantage of the special black-out arrangements in Maidstone Prison, William James Farrell, commonly known as Willie the Mug, made his escape from the prison hospital. The authorities believe he will make for London. Farrell is suffering from chronic bronchitis and will probably be arrested within the next few hours."


Stevens's face was ashy pale. He ran a finger between his collar and his neck.

"I don't think it's going to be so good for you, Blooey," said Callaghan amiably. "Willie the Mug's wise to things—how you and Miranda and Narkat let him in for that Amalgamated Jewellery steal. He knows you did it.

"I should think he'd be in London fairly soon. And I hear he's got a gun. I wouldn't like to be any one of you three tonight if Willie finds you," he finished.

Stevens said, "I don't know what the hell you're talking about."

"No," said Callaghan. "I suppose you'll tell me in a minute that you didn't crack that safe, that you weren't the feller who handed the attaché case to Miranda, who planted it on poor old Willie, who took the rap for that cheap skirt."

He got up, "Well, Blooey," he said, "I expect you'll get what's coming to you. Good night."

He turned on his heel and walked out of the club. Outside in the darkness, pressed close against the wall, was MacOliver.

Callaghan said, "He'll be coming out in a minute. It'll be easy for you to tail him. He'll go straight round to Narkat to warn him and Miranda. Don't lose him. Directly he gets there, give me a ring on the telephone. I'll be at the office."

Callaghan disappeared in the darkness.


AT twelve o'clock Blooey Stevens, gasping a little, walked up the stairs to Narkat's flat in Charing Cross. He put his finger on the doorbell and kept it there. Two minutes afterwards the door opened. Narkat stood in the doorway. He was tall, slim, overdressed. He raised his eyebrows in surprise when he saw Stevens.

"Well, if it isn't Blooey," he said. "Fancy you out on a night like this. What's the trouble?"

"There's plenty of trouble," said Stevens. "Willie the Mug's wise to that Amalgamated frame-up. He's broken out of Maidstone this afternoon."

They stood looking at each other. After a minute Narkat produced an uneasy grin.

"Come in," he said. "Miranda's inside. We'd better talk this over."

It was one o'clock. Blooey Stevens, fortified with several large whiskies and sodas, was feeling distinctly better. Narkat, his nerve recovered, stood in front of the fireplace. On the other side of the fire, in an armchair, sat Miranda.

"Look," said Narkat. "I don't see what we've got to worry about. If Willie's found out what we've pulled on him, he's not going to be feeling good. But I don't think he's going as far as murder. I don't think he'd take a chance on that. After all, seven years is better than a rope. I've got another idea. If he shows up I'll try it on."

"What's the idea, boss?" said Blooey.

"I'll buy that stuff off him," said Narkat with a grin. "Work it out for yourself. He's got out of prison and he's broke. With all this war trouble on, if he's got some money, there's a good chance of him getting away. He knows he's got that jewellery hidden somewhere and he knows we don't know where it is. I'll do a deal with him.

"If he likes to hand it over, I'll give him a thousand. With that money and a bit of luck he might make a getaway."

Stevens said uneasily, "Do you think he'll want to do a deal?"

Narkat shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, what else can we do?" he asked. "We can't go round to the police and ask for protection, not unless we tell 'em the whole story. Anyway, he hasn't appeared yet."

The words were hardly out of his mouth before the telephone rang. Narkat crossed to the instrument. He stiffened as a hoarse voice came over the wire.

"Good evening, Narkat," said the voice. "How d'you do? This is Willie the Mug. I'd recognise that voice of yours anywhere. Well, what have you got to say?"

Narkat said nothing. He looked at Miranda and Blooey.

"Now you listen to me," the voice went on. "I've got out of stir, and I'm going to stay out, see? And you're going to do what I tell you, Narkat, or I'm going to get the lot of you."

"Look, Willie," said Narkat, "I'm not unreasonable. Why not let bygones be bygones? If I can do anything for you, you know I'll do it."

"Like hell you will," said Willie the Mug. "Well, I'll tell you what you're going to do now. I'm speaking from the callbox just opposite your flat. I've got a gun in my pocket. If you don't do what I tell you, I'm coming over there to use it. Have you got any money?"

Narkat winked at Blooey.

"Yes, Willie," he said. "I've got a thousand. I'll tell you what I'll do with you. If you like to let me know where that jewellery is, I'll hand over the thousand and I'll fix a hide-out for you."

"All right," said Willie the Mug. "You get that thousand an' you come downstairs an' walk round to my place in Sellers Alley. The door'll be open. An' remember I'll be just be'ind you. If you try any funny business I'll let you 'ave it."

He wheezed hoarsely.

"OK, Willie," said Narkat. "I'll be there."

He hung up.

"It's all right," he said to the others. "He'll do a deal. We'll get that stuff and there'll be a sweet profit."


NARKAT stumbled along Sellers Alley in the darkness. He found the door of Willie the Mug's place open. He went in and stood in the hallway. The door shut behind him. He could hear Willie the Mug wheezing. Narkat thought he sounded pretty bad.

He felt himself pushed into the room on the right of the hallway. He stood there leaning with his back against the wall.

"I've got the dough, Willie," he said. "Where's the stuff?"

"It's under a pavin' stone at the back," wheezed the other. "I'll get it. But I want to talk to you first. You tell Miranda that one of these fine days I'm going' to fix 'er. You can tell 'er that!"

Narkat said, "It was tough on you, Willie, but what could she do? When Blooey did the job he handed the stuff to her to bring to me. She saw that fly-cop Viners, an' got the wind up. So she planted it on you. She never thought that you'd get pinched for it—or that when you did you wouldn't find a way out of it."

Willie said, "Shut up an' hand over the money."

Narkat put his hand out in the darkness with the notes in it.

Suddenly a light went on. Narkat found himself looking at Callaghan. On the other side of the room, standing by the windows which were shielded by blankets, stood two more men—they were Flying Squad men.

Callaghan said, "So you fell for it, Narkat. "We've got all we want on you now."

Narkat muttered a curse.

"So you got at Stevens," he said. "I'll fix him for this—one day."

"No, we didn't," said Callaghan with a grin. "I got the story from Ferdie Phelps tonight. Then I got in touch with a printer who does odd jobs for me. We got him to print a fake press report in the stop-press column of the evening paper.

"Blooey fell for it. I knew he'd come running round to you with the story. Then all I had to do was to telephone through to you and say I was Willie. You fell for that too."

One of the Flying Squad men produced a pair of handcuffs.

"We've got the jewellery," Callaghan went on. "But I promised old Ferdie Phelps that I'd get Willie out. This was the way we did it. By this time they've picked up Miranda and Blooey."

He grinned.

"You three are going to have a nice war," he said. "Inside!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.