Authors: Bernard Knight
Jackie Stott, Tyneside boxer turned nightclub owner â and criminal â seeks to evade the Newcastle police as he stumbles from one dodgy deal to another.
When Jackie gets involved in a murder, the police have a reason to try to get him locked up for good â and it's not just the police who are out to get Jackie, for rival gangland figures are soon gunning for him too!
A rip-roaring ride through the nightlife and criminal underworld of a bustling British city during the 1960s.
To all my CID friends in the North-East, and especially to the River Tyne Police, hoping they will not mind my overruling the Home Secretary in creating a âTyneside Constabulary' for the purposes of this book!
The Sixties Mysteries is a series of reissues of my early crime stories, the first of which was originally published in 1963. Looking back now, it is evident how criminal investigation has changed over the last half-century. Though basic police procedure is broadly the same, in these pages you will find no Crime Scene Managers or Crown Prosecution Service, no DNA, CSI, PACE, nor any of the other acronyms beloved of modern novels and television. These were the days when detectives still wore belted raincoats and trilby hats. There was no Health and Safety to plague us and the police smoked and drank tea alongside the post-mortem table!
Modern juries are now more interested in the reports of the forensic laboratory than in the diligent labours of the humble detective, though it is still the latter that solves most serious crimes. This is not to by any means belittle the enormous advances made in forensic science in recent years, but to serve as a reminder that the old murder teams did a pretty good job based simply on experience and dogged investigation.
The launch squatted with its stern well down in the icy water, a long wake bubbling behind. With its black hull and dark varnished cabin, it was almost invisible. Only the navigation lights gleamed against the river.
âToo damned cold for crime tonight, Horace!'
The sergeant's words condensed into puffs of mist as they left his lips. In spite of the radiator alongside his seat, it was freezing in the cabin, which was open to the sky at the back end.
âMust be a coupla degrees o' frost tonight,' he said again.
The constable in the driving seat alongside made a gargling noise in reply. The sergeant sighed. It was hard work trying to be sociable with Horace.
For a few moments he sat staring through the windscreen at the deep gorge of the Tyne, as it cut through between Newcastle and Gateshead. They were approaching the narrowest part, where three bridges crowded together to form the road links from Northumberland to Durham, and just passing the River Police Station for this section of the Tyne, but the launch throbbed on, and swept under the graceful arch of the huge Tyne Bridge to pass into the more open water beyond, with no other bridge between them and the sea, eight miles away.
The sergeant's eyes roved the quaysides, only to see nothing but frosted cranes and deserted streets.
âQuiet, isn't it?' he said, with no hope of response from the taciturn driver.
Then he glimpsed a moving red light in the distance, where the river took a bend to the right.
âHopper's coming up, Horace,' he said, trying to prod his constable into saying something, even if it was only âBelt up!' But the other man kept his jaw clamped shut and spun the wheel over to keep the launch well clear of the
as she came pounding up towards them. The
was one of the power station hoppers, condemned to her eternal task of humping boiler ash down to its grave in the open sea.
The wake of the hopper hit them after she passed and Horace jammed the brass throttle lever back to âHalf Speed' as they bounced like a cork in a bucket. The mournful hoot of the
's siren echoed over the sleeping city as she signalled the Swing Bridge.
As the sound died away, the sergeant jabbed a finger in the direction of the north bank. âLet's go and have a squint at Jackie Stott's old hulk,' he commanded hopefully. Things were far too quiet for Ernie Leadbitter's taste â any diversion would be welcome on a blank shift like this one.
Horace shoved the throttle back to âFull' and the thirty-two foot launch cleaved her way through the black water towards the Newcastle bank. Their destination, contemptuously called an âold hulk' by the sergeant, was a converted torpedo boat. Stripped of engines and, in fact, almost everything else except the actual hull, it was now re-named the
. Owned by Jackie Stott, a local nightclub proprietor, it had been turned into a floating gaming casino and moored on a particularly dismal stretch of the riverside.
It was one of the ambitions of the Tyneside Constabulary to pin something on Jackie but, so far, the wily ex-boxer had been too slippery for them. There was a healthy rivalry between Central Division, which covered his club in the city centre, and the River Police, who had jurisdiction over the floating part of Stott's empire.
Ernie Leadbitter had long cherished the hope of catching Jackie or one of his minions at some piece of evil, even if it was only an infringement of the gaming or licensing laws.
âIf only that bloody barge would go adrift, I could even nick him for failure to show lights!' he hollered at Horace, as the launch closed with the
Horace burst into a rare flow of eloquence. âHave a job to get Jackie for owt to do with the watter,' he grunted in his ripe Geordie accent. âHe spent the war on them MTBs. Knows his way about the sea, does Jackie.'
Leadbitter looked sourly at the dirty white hull of the torpedo boat, reflected in the street lights of the quayside. âThat's why he bought this abomination, I suppose â sentimental value!'
Horace guffawed. âJackie's aboot as sentimental as a bull elephant â¦ though he must like boats, I'll grant. He's got that canny twin-screw launch moored up at Scotswood â¦ only bought her back in the spring.'
âMust be making a packet outta these mugs on the gaming tables,' muttered Leadbitter resentfully, staring across the water at one of Stott's sources of wealth.
As they came nearer, Horace cut the diesel to neutral and they glided in a smooth curve to where the
lay moored. The old war boat had been stripped of all her deck fittings. The only superstructure was a glorified garden shed with a door, but no windows. A single string of coloured bulbs hung over the gangway which, at this state of the tide, was almost horizontal.
âLooks quiet â they can't be doing much business,' said Ernie with regret.
âHeard tell they're dee'in aalreet â rough crowd and all get down here. The more respectable clients go up to the Rising Sun.'
The police launch was almost alongside the old MTB now, gliding up to her starboard quarter. Ernie got off the padded seat and walked back to the open deck alongside the engine casing, ready to step up onto the gunwale. He looked up at the bulk of the
, then stiffened as his ears picked up some noise. He stuck his head back under the cabin roof.
âKill the engine â quick!' he hissed.
As the tickover of the Perkins engine died away, Leadbitter hopped up on the gunwale, then leaned out and grabbed one of the stanchions that carried the rail around the edge of the torpedo boat.
The police launch stopped her forward glide and Horace's face appeared below him. For once, the sergeant wanted him to keep quiet. He made a âshhh' sign and the constable saw him jerk a thumb in the direction of the other craft's gangway.
They both listened.
Horace could see nothing from below, but he could hear a thumping, scuffling sound, then voices.
âGerroff, yer ugly great bleeder. I'm on the level, I tell yer!'
âShurrup! If the boss says “get”, you gets, see!'
There was a skidding, rattling and grunting â Leadbitter, with his eyes just above deck level, saw two figures struggling under the line of coloured bulbs. The gangway was wobbling violently as the larger of two figures wrestled and buffeted the smaller towards the quayside.
The cursing and panting increased, then one of the men collapsed, the top half of his body sticking perilously over the edge of the gangway. His assailant began kicking his side and buttocks with apparent relish.
The sergeant decided that things had gone far enough. He hauled himself up by the stanchion and ducked beneath the rail, followed by Horace.
For the first time, the two men on the gangway were aware of the arrival of the police. The big one saw Leadbitter first. He stopped battering the other man, then quickly bent down and heaved him to his feet. Incongruously, he began brushing him down with a hand the size of a ham.
âWhat d'you think you're at, Joe?' snapped Leadbitter. âCome on, let's be having you both back on the deck here.'
Amiable and gentle most of the time, Sergeant Leadbitter was a different man when dealing with villains. He was a heavily built fellow and had an âofficial' voice with a real bite of authority in it.
Joe Blunt, the one who had been doing the kicking, sullenly came off the gangway, dragging his victim behind him.
Neither of them spoke, but both eyed the police officers with a mixture of truculence and apprehension. The smaller man, sandy-haired and in his late twenties, seemed not a bit grateful for his deliverance. He glowered at the sergeant every bit as resentfully as Joe, who was a great hulking figure with a piggy, moronic face, beaten out of shape by years of third-class boxing.
Ernie peered more closely at the smaller fellow, who was sulkily twisting his rumpled dinner jacket back into shape. âI know you, don't I?' he demanded.
âHe's Geordie Armstrong â spins the wheel for Jackie Stott,' volunteered Horace.
The policemen looked expectantly at the big bruiser.
âWell?' Ernie sounded impatient.
âIt was nothing â¦ jus' a bit o' fun, you know,' rumbled Joe Blunt eventually.
Leadbitter snorted derisively. âFun be damned! You were kicking the hell outta his backside a minute past. Come on, don't give me that!'
âOnly a bit of a lark â¦ I'm not complaining about 'im,' muttered Geordie Armstrong.
âJoe's gone back into the sparring partner business, has he!' Horace laid the sarcasm on thickly. âYou paying a coupla bob for a practice bout, Geordie, that it?'
âVery bloody funny,' snarled Armstrong, showing his teeth. âI tell you it was nothing. So shove off, will yer!'
âYes, this is a private patch, this â¦ you got no call to be 'ere,' rumbled Joe Blunt, taking a lead from his former victim.
Ernie Leadbitter stepped close to the punchy old âpro'. He was not quite as big, but he had a steely glint in his eye that made the loose-lipped face turn away. âWatch your tongue, Joe â¦ any sort of disturbance on this converted muck barge is our business.' He turned and grasped Joe's arm. âCome on, let's get below â¦ is your gaffer in?'
Joe, thoroughly cowed by the sergeant's vibrant authority, turned to shamble back to the door in the clumsy superstructure of the
. Geordie was more belligerent and angrily shook off Horace as the constable reached out to steer him after Joe Blunt. The boxer opened the door, which carried a notice stating
, and stepped into a carpeted entrance which had a flight of stairs running down immediately to their left.
At the head of the stairs, Joe made a last stand. âI tell you, we was only having a bit o' fun â the boss will do me for letting you in here,' he pleaded.
do you if you don't â so get on!' snapped Ernie.
Looking like a dejected hippopotamus, Joe tramped down the stairs, leading the others into the big single room of the casino. It occupied three-quarters of the hull, as a cloakroom filled the pointed bow and the stern was partitioned off into an office. A bar ran along one side, the rest of the place being filled with roulette, blackjack and
chemin de fer
tables. There were about twenty-five men in the room and the moment the police uniforms appeared at the foot of the stairs, a deathly hush fell on the place.
Faces were raised and cards were held against chests. The click of the roulette ball went on unheeded for a few seconds while the procession headed for the door of Jackie Stott's office. Joe tapped and went in. Geordie Armstrong crowded in after Joe, aided by a helpful push in the back from Horace.