Blackout Murders can be found in






The Blackout Murders

By David X. Manners

What was the sinister secret behind the darkness that suddenly descended in the midst of daylight, to form a cover for the crimes and deadly plots of enemy agents?

CHAPTER I
Skyway to Death

CODY HEROLD stared miserably through the plane window into the thick dark. The other passengers were settling in their seats. The Skyliner's two motors had throttled down after the takeoff, and now the city was sliding, black and pearled with light, below. Cody turned from the window, growled disgustedly to himself.

He rubbed a finger irritably alongside his slightly flattened nose. A fine thing being here, he thought. A fine thing he was about to do. He—a detective—paying blackmail to crooks!

Cody's lips tightened, and his clamped teeth made his jaw muscles twitch. The Crook-Buster! That was the name they had given him. He liked it. He hoped they kept on calling him the Crook-Buster. But a cold knot in his stomach told him that after this job was done maybe they'd change it to the Crook- Coddler!

Cody Herold was rather big, and fairly supplied with muscles. In a clutch, he could make a try at handling himself. His tin ear and slightly flattened beak did not come from the prize-ring. Crooks didn't like him, naturally. And the police were jealous of his success, forgetting that often he paid out far more on a case than his fees brought in.

And here he was now on his way to do dirty work. To pay off money to crooks! Why? Because a worried little old man had shed tears, pleading with him. And because of a girl's pretty face. A girl. . . .

"You've got to help me," the little old man had pleaded. "My name is Frank Heppel. When I was young, I was involved in some mixup. I served time. Someone has found that out. They're threatening me now. You've got to stop them from revealing that I was once a common thief and holdup. You must do that!"

Cody had considered the man's entreaty. "What makes you think that will be possible?" he said. "What makes you think I can stop them from revealing it?"

The breath and spirit and hope went out of the little man all at once. "Because I'm ready to pay what they ask! I don't think they'll ever ask for any more. I won't have any more. I'm paying them every cent I have in the world!"

Cody eyed the man, his baggy clothes, his withered face, and his heart was restive. Something was not right. The setup was too pat. "Why is it worth that much to you?"

Frank Heppel's milky-blue eyes glistened. The Adam's apple bobbed up, then down in his throat. Hurriedly, fumblingly, he took a picture out of his inside pocket. His veined hands quivered pathetically as he held it. It was a picture of a sweet, a pretty girl. Not just a glamour-girl, but a really beautiful kid who seemed to have something to her. He recalled having seen that pretty face in the press.

"This is Gloria, my daughter," Frank Heppel choked.

"Your daughter?" Cody straightened. "Why, I've seen her picture before. On the society page. Isn't she the one marrying Polo Tom Gallant?"

Old Thomas E. Gallant's troubles with his wild young son, Polo Tom, were more than once subject for mention in the gossip sheets. Because the Gallant family was blue-blood, staid, North Shore.

"Please!" the little man's Adam's apple bobbed. "That's why—why Gloria would die if this was ever revealed about me. She doesn't even know of it herself. I've tried to get my hands on these blackmailers, but it's no use. Oh, I know you'll say that they'll want to continue bleeding me. But all I want is Gloria and Tom married. That's all—all I want. . . ."

THE powerful, even drone of the plane's motors drummed into Cody's consciousness. He looked down at the neatly tied package resting in his lap. He rubbed his slightly flattened nose with a finger, frowned as he remembered Frank Heppel's giving him that package.

"Here are ten thousand dollars in unmarked bills," Frank Heppel had said. "And here is a ticket on the Washington Diplomat. You leave Eastern City airport at 9:05 tonight. At 9:22 exactly, you are to drop the package from the plane. Please ask no questions. It must all be secret. I've made arrangements with the flight pilot to allow you to drop it. They think it's for weather forecast experiments. That's just as the blackmailers instructed. They will pick up the package. It's a short, easy job for you, Mr. Herold. It won't take you more than a few hours. And here's the hundred fifty dollars—your fee. You can catch the return plane from Washington. I pray God it'll all work out all right."

Cody Herold stirred uneasily now. He glanced at his wrist watch. It was 9:18. Four more minutes to go. He glanced swiftly at the nine other passengers. He was thankful that only one was an acquaintance. That one was a lantern-jawed man who once was a police photographer before going into business for himself. But Zysman, the photographer, was too wrapped up in a newspaper to notice him.

Cody scowled. There was no way to drop the package from the cabin. He went forward to the pilot's compartment. Both pilots turned at Cody's entry, displeasure in their eyes. They looked like they didn't know a damn thing about any package being dropped from the plane. They said as much, and—

Then it happened—with dramatic suddenness! Cody tried to get his bearings, so he wouldn't fall. He tried to remember if either of the pilots had turned a switch. It had been bright and cheerful here. One moment, it was light. The next, it was dark! A hollow, popping sound—that had come first, Cody remembered. Then a flash of heat. Then darkness.

One of the pilots gasped, "The lights— they're out!"

A confusion of panicked voices came from back in the cabin. Cody dropped the package. The package with ten thousand dollars in it! He swore, began to grope for it. The pilot called for a flashlight. The copilot's voice rose in anger. The flashlight didn't work!

The plane lurched sharply and Cody knew the pilot couldn't possibly see his instruments. Cody jammed his hand into his pocket and brought out a packet of matches. Hurriedly, he struck one. He heard its sputter and hiss, but it did not light. He tried another match. The same. It was as if the matches were wet, but he knew they weren't.

Sharp, burning pain suddenly knifed Cody's fingertips. He dropped the match he'd been holding. He'd been burned by it! But the match hadn't been lit!

Or had it?

Cody struck again. He heard the hiss of the match head. He could feel the heat of the flame. But there was no light!

Then the plane shuddered, lurched completely out of control. It plummeted like a wounded bird. A sharp, shearing sound suddenly rent the ship as it struck something. A man cried out in terror back in the cabin. Cody felt himself hurled back, reeling. He tried to catch himself, but there was nothing to grasp. He crashed into the cabin wall, felt it rent and torn beneath him. The ship groaned in anguish, metal flying.

Cody saw Death opening its arms to him. He thought of Frank Heppel. The ten thousand dollars that was to save Gloria, his daughter, from shame and disgrace.

A shattering roar crescendoed. A crushing impact. Cody Herold knew no more.

A SHARP, jabbing pain tortured Cody's right arm. Rising to hysterical intensity, a screaming wail drilled at his ears. Cody fluttered his eyes. He twisted where he lay.

"That lug's too tough to kill!" a voice said sourly.

Cody looked up vacantly and saw a doctor bending over him, a stethoscope hooked in his ears. But it was not the doctor who had spoken, Cody realized, in spite of his stupor. The sharp-nosed face of Lieutenant Ira Meade of the Eastern City Police Department was floating up there behind the doc. The same sharp nose right under which Cody had tactlessly cracked too many cases.

Cody turned his head from Meade's ugly stare, looked about dully. He was lying on the hard ground of an open lot. There was the sound of si...

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