Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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First published in The Evening Standard, London, 5 Oct 1936

Collected in:

The Evening Standard Second Book of Strange Stories,
Hutchinson & Co., London, 1937

Making Crime Pay,
Faber & Faber, London, England, 1944

The Best Stories of Peter Cheyney,
Faber & Faber, London, England, 1954

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-12-27
Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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The Evening Standard Second Book of Strange Stories
with reprint of "Nice Work"

THE guy in the dirty grey fedora looked like he might have come out of the Bellevue Morgue—off a slab. He was big and his jaw jutted over the edge of his upturned coat collar. His eyes shifted all over as if he was waiting for somebody to pick up any time. His shoes were broken and the upper of one had gone rotten with wet. Each time he took a step it squelched.

He had four days' growth of hair on his face, and he kept in the shadow of the wall. His fingers, inside his coat-pocket, were clasped round the butt of a .38 police Positive that had once been issued to a copper who got himself cited for bravery in the line of duty the day after they buried him.

The guy hadn't got a collar or a shirt. Under the overcoat was a cotton undervest. The pant-legs showing under the overcoat were too short and the cuffs at the bottom were grimed with mud that never came from New York.

Every time he passed a store or somewhere where it was light he stuck his head down into his coat-collar. Once he saw a kid carrying some bread, and he licked his lips like a hungry dog. His nose was bothering him. He hadn't a handkerchief, and it was sore. If you've ever tried blowing your nose on newspaper you'll know what I mean.

* * * * *

He turned off Bowery at Kenmare. He was limping. He had a blister on his right foot where the shoe was broken.

He hastened his steps with an effort. On Mott he saw the newsboy.

The boy was standing on the edge of the sidewalk looking around. When he saw the guy in the dirty grey fedora he crossed the street and stood in the shadow. Farther down the limping guy crossed and slowed up. Then he looked around too, and worked up slowly towards the boy.

The boy made a play of selling him a news-sheet. The limping guy took it. On the front page he could see his own picture, and across the top of the sheet was a banner caption—"Fremer Breaks Jail—Kills Two Guards."

That was him!

* * * * *

He spoke to the boy through the side of his mouth. He licked his lips before he spoke.

"Talk quick," he said. “Where's that blonde of Franchini's?"

The boy grinned at him.

"You're in luck, mug," he said. "She's in Moksie's dive. She's hangin' around there plenty. An' is she drinkin' or is she? She's the rye queen an' toppin' off with rum. Does she get high!"

The limping guy swore quietly.

"Where's she gettin' the dough, kid?" he asked.

The newsboy spat graphically.

"She ain't," he said. "Moksie's puttin' it on the cuff." He dropped his voice. "Seen that in the sheet about you," he muttered. "They're offerin' five grand for you, dead or alive. How'd you like that, pal?"

But the man was gone. The newsboy looked after him as he disappeared into the shadows and spat once more.

* * * * *

The guy limped towards the waterfront. He stood up under a light in an alley and read the paper. What the kid had said was true. They were offering five grand for him dead or alive. He licked his lips and grinned—like a wolf. Then he began to walk.

It was midnight when he dragged himself down the stairs at Moksie's speak on Waterfront. The place was near empty. Moksie was leaning over the bar reading a news-sheet. The limping guy walked over slowly and looked at Moksie.

"Keep your trap shut an' like it, sucker," he said. "I gotta gun in my pocket that's liable to go shootin' itself off supposin' somebody starts to do anything that even looks screwy. Where's Franchini's girl?"

Moksie nodded his head towards the far corner. The guy looked over and saw her. There was a measure of rye at Moksie's elbow. He picked it up and drained it. Then he limped over to the woman.

* * * * *

She was twenty-eight and still pretty. She was pretty high, and a half-bottle of rotgut with a fake Bacardi label stood in front of her. Her eyes were heavy and her last perm had gone haywire on her. Her skin was good and her hands were trembling. She kept tapping on the floor with a four-inch French heel.

The guy slumped into a chair opposite her. He stuck the news- sheet in front of her. She looked at it and then him.

"So what?" she said. She grinned cynically. "You ain't the only guy worth five grand," she said. "Feelin' good, I suppose, because you broke out. Well... maybe they'll get you, sucker. They do get 'em, you know. An' what do you want, anyhow?"

He leaned towards her.

* * * * *

"Listen, kid," he said. "I gotta talk fast an' you gotta listen. I been on my feet for forty-eight hours, an' unless I get under cover they'll pick me up and fry me. I'm nearly through. I'm soaked an' hungry, an' I could use liquor"—she pushed the Bacardi towards him and he took a swig from the bottle—"but I gotta contact Franchini. I tell ya I gotta. Now, don't give me that stuff about not knowin' where he is. I know all about it. They're offering five grand for him too, ain't they? An' you're his girl, ain't you? Well... so you gotta know."

She jerked up her head and looked at him. A gleam of faint interest showed in her eyes.

"I contacted Marelli to-night," he went on. "He says that he can get Franchini an' me away if I can lay under cover for two days. Well, where's Franchini hidin'? Join me up with him. Another two hours an' they'll have me. Marelli will get us outa this burg in two days, an' I can fix to get him paid an' he knows it. Well... I'll do a trade. Get me along to his hideout. I got no dough—nothin' except an empty gun an' a cough. Fix me some eats an' contact Marelli. He'll get us out of here on Thursday. I'm tradin' my lay-up with Franchini for the getaway for him. Well... do we deal?"

* * * * *

She smiled. Her teeth were white and even.

"What a fine pair of killers youse two are," she said. "Takin' it on the lam both of you an' both scared stiff." She looked at the paper. "So you bust out up the river," she said. "Howd'ya get down here. Hijacked a car?"

He nodded.

"I bumped a guy in a Ford," he said. "I think I done him too. He took two slugs. They got plenty on me now..."

She took another drink and passed the bottle back to him.

* * * * *

"D'ya meet a guy called Lloyd Schrim in the big house," she said. "A young kid—about twenty-three. He got life for a killin'."

He nodded.

"I know," he said. "He got it for rubbin' out Gerlin' at the Polecat Roadhouse. He told me he never done it. He said he took the rap for some other guy. He's not a bad kid. He's ill. He's got no dough, so they got him workin' in the jute mill. He's got T.B.—they get that way in the mill. I reckon he was played for a sucker by the guy who did the job, but he wouldn't talk. That's why they're ridin' him an' makin' it tough. I don't reckon he'll last much longer."

She looked at him.

"Why don't he try a break?" she asked. "You done it. Why can't he?"

He grinned.

"I got friends outside," he said, "friends with dough. You can make a break, but it costs dough. It cost some pals of mine seven grand to get me out."

She grinned.

"Ain't you the expensive baby," she said. "Seven grand to get you out and the cops offerin' five for you. You oughta feel swell..."

He coughed. Underneath the table she heard his shoe squelch.

* * * * *

"Listen, kid," she said. "I'll fix it. I'll trade puttin' you up with Franchini until Marelli can get you both away. Franchini ain't got no pals like you with dough and contacts, an' he can't put his nose outside the dump. They're offerin' five grand for him too.

"Now listen. I'm goin' outside to grab a cab. Pull your hat down an' get in so the driver don't see you. Get him to drop you on Tide Alley at Parata Wharf. Down the bottom is a bust-in warehouse. Franchini's on the top floor, but be careful. He's liable to shoot anybody he don't know."

"I'll be along in half an hour. When I come you tell me where I contact Marelli an' we'll fix the job. So long—killer!"

* * * * *

Franchini opened the door and looked at the limping guy. Franchini was tall and thin and dirty. He hadn't shaved for a week, and his mouth was still twitching from cocaine.

He grinned.

"Come in," he said. "You're Fremer. The dame phoned me. I reckon the idea of gettin' out of this hell-broth looks good to me. I'm for Canada."

The other grinned.

"Me, too," he said.

He closed and bolted the door behind him, and took a swig at the bottle on the table. Beside it was an automatic. There was another in Franchini's hand.

Franchini put the second gun down beside the first and sat at the table with the two guns in front of his hands, which lay on the table behind them.

"You gotta gun?" he asked.

Fremer pulled the police pistol out of his pocket and threw it on the table.

"No shells," he said laconically. "There was only two in it, an' I used 'em on the guy in the Ford I came down in."

Franchini nodded.

"O.K.," he said. "We'll wait for the dame."

They sat there waiting. Taking swigs from the bottle on the table.

* * * * *

It was quiet. Franchini was just taking a wallop at the bottle when they heard a car grind round the corner outside. Fremer, who had his fingers under the table ledge suddenly uptilted the table. Franchini's guns crashed to the floor. Simultaneously Fremer went across the table-top at Franchini.

The door smashed open. Half a dozen cops under a police lieutenant burst in with their guns showing.

"Stick 'em up, boys," said the lieutenant. "We got a date for you two with the hot seat. Take it easy now." He snapped the steel cuffs on Franchini and turned towards Fremer with another pair.

Fremer kept his hands up.

"O.K., lieutenant," he said. "Just feel in the lining of my coat and you'll find my badge. I'm Lemmy Caution, New York G. Division. We played it this way to get Franchini. I guessed the dame would come and spill the works to you."

The lieutenant found the badge. Caution dropped his hands. Franchini began to be sick in the corner.

"You're a mug, Franchini," said the G. man. "You oughta know that that dame of yours was always stuck on Lloyd Schrim. We reckoned that if we planted a fake story about some guy called Fremer bustin' out of the big house an' taking it on the lam to New York, and splashed his picture on the front page, she would fall for the set-up.

"How the hell do you expect a woman to be in love with a guy and have two killers bottled up in a room and not squeal when she's just been told that her boy friend was dyin' of T.B. through workin' in the jute mill; that they was ridin' him for not talkin' over a job that she knew durn well that he never pulled?

"She reckoned that the ten grand she'd get for turnin' us in would fix an escape for him. I thought she would, an' took a chance on it. Take him away, boys."

* * * * *

The G. man limped down the steps at Moksie's. He walked over to the bar and ordered rye. Moksie pushed the bottle over the bar.

The G. man picked it up and walked over to the corner table where the woman was slumped. Her head was between her arms. She was crying.

He sat down opposite her and put the bottle on the table. He put his hand under her chin and pushed her head up. She fell back in the chair.

"Cut it out, sister," he said. "It can be tough. I suppose they told you that there wasn't goin' to be no reward, huh? That it was a frame-up? Well, that's the way it goes. Have a drink an' stop the waterworks. It annoys the customers.'"

She took a drink from the bottle.

"You're funny, ain't you, copper?" she said. "It's a big laugh, ain't it? You pull a fast one on me, an' I shoot my mouth an' wise you up to where Franchini is hidin' out, an' you get him fried and I'm left on the heap."

* * * * *

The G. man grinned.

"Listen, sweetheart," he said. "This act wasn't so easy to put on. I ain't had any food for two days an' I walked on this broken shoe so as to give myself an' honest to goodness blister.

"Another thing, it ain't so bad as it looks. You see, I handled that Polecat Inn shootin' a long time ago. I never believed that your boy friend pulled it. As a matter of fact, Franchini did it, an' Lloyd took the rap for him an' wouldn't talk. When Franchini bumped that last mug an' scrammed, an' we couldn't find where he was, I thought this little act up an' it worked.

"Have another drink an' then let's go an' eat. There's a guy waitin' for you down at Centre Street by the name of Lloyd Schrim. I had him sprung this mornin'. He reckons he wants to marry you or something like that.

"An' there ain't no need to ask a lotta questions. He never worked in no jute mill, an' he ain't got T.B.

"Say, do you know what's good for a blister?"


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
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.