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PETER CHEYNEY

BIRTHDAY FOR CALLAGHAN

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ILLUSTRATED BY FISCHER



Published under syndication in, e.g.,
The Australian Women's Weekly, 24 March 1951 (this version)
Collected in No Ordinary Cheyney
Faber & Faber, London, England, 1948

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-09-04
Produced by Terry Walker 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.

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Illustration

"I am Miss Lanning," the girl told Callaghan
with a smile. "Can I do something for you?"



EFFIE THOMPSON regarded the jangling telephone with green eyes that flashed malevolently. She said to Nikolls: "I'm sick of answering that phone and telling people they can't speak to him. I suppose he had a merry time last night?"

Windemere Nikolls, Callaghan's Canadian assistant, grinned at her.

"And how!" he said. "Gettin' ready for his birthday to-day, I suppose. I bet he's got a sweet hangover right now."

She took off the receiver. She said: "Yes... this is Callaghan Investigations. No, I'm afraid you can't speak to Mr. Callaghan. He has a most important conference. No... I couldn't tell you when he'll be free. I haven't the remotest idea."

She hung up the receiver.

Nikolls lit a cigarette. He looked at Effie Thompson sideways. He asked: "Did ya buy a birthday present for the boss? You didn't? Well... well... well... Maybe you're slippin' babe? Maybe you don't go for him as much as you usta."

Her eyes regarded him wickedly.

"Don't talk rubbish." she said. "And don't call me 'babe'. I suppose it has never occurred to you that a secretary might have merely a Platonic regard for her employer?"

"Hear me laugh," said Nikolls. "Playtonic regard is good. Play for him an' tonic for you." He stretched. "You're so stuck on that guy that he could even make you eat peas off a knife.'

She said: "Nuts! You're not only fat; you're also crazy."

"O.K." said Nikolls airily. "I'm crazy an' you're playtonic. All the same you better call him again. I gotta talk to him. Something's turned up."


CALLAGHAN turned over as the telephone on his bedside table rang. He opened his eyes and regarded the ceiling with animosity. Then he threw back the bedclothes; swung his legs off the bed; sat, running his fingers through his thick black hair. The telephone continued to ring.

Callaghan knew that the call came from his office on the floor below. He knew it would be Effie Thompson wanting instructions about the morning's post. He scowled at the instrument.

The telephone stopped ringing. Callaghan walked into his sitting room; crossed to the cupboard in the corner; extracted a bottle of whisky. The telephone began to ring again.

He went back to the bedroom, carrying the whisky bottle; picked up the receiver.

Effie Thompson said: "Good morning. Mr. Callaghan. It's a quarter past twelve." Her voice was slightly arid.

He asked: "Any calls?"

"Yes," said Effie. "Several, including one from Mrs. Jevons. You remember you worked on a case for her last year. She says she s very worried. She thinks her husband is in love with the housemaid. She says she doesn't know what to do."

Callaghan said: "How do I know? Tell her to ask the housemaid. Give me Nikolls."

Nikolls' voice came on the line.

"Good mornin'. Happy birthday. How did the party go?"

Callaghan said: "Mind your own business. What is it?"

"It s the Globe and International," said Nikolls. "A jewellery job."

"All right," said Callaghan. "I'll be down in half an hour. Ring through to the housekeeper and tell her to send me up a pot of very strong tea."


AT one o'clock Callaghan walked into the office. Out of the corner of her eye Effie Thompson looked at him approvingly. He was wearing a navy-blue suit, a fawn shirt, a blue tie.

She said, "I've dealt with most of the post, Mr. Callaghan. I'm sorry you're so tired. And many happy returns of the day."

"The same to you," said Callaghan absently.

He went into his office. Nikolls was sitting in the armchair smoking a cigarette.

Callaghan asked, "Well, what is it, Windy?"

Nikolls said, "The Globe and International are carrying the insurance on a pearl an' diamond necklace."

Nikolls went on to explain to Callaghan. "The necklace is owned and insured by some guy called Jerrington," he said. "He's got an office in the Aldwych. He's a broker or something. The necklace belongs to his wife, but she don't wear it often. They live outside London an' he keeps the necklace in the office safe."

Callaghan asked, "Did the Globe and International approve of the necklace being kept there?"

Nikolls nodded. "Yeah... they'd inspected the safe. They said it was right."

Callaghan sat down at his desk. He lit a cigarette and said, "Go on, Windy."

"Four days ago," said Nikolls, "Jerrington goes into the office. He's takin' his wife to the theatre that night. An' she wants to wear the necklace. So he opens the safe an' the necklace is gone."

Callaghan asked: "Was the safe forced?"

Nikolls shook his head: "No... It was just opened, and it was opened by somebody with gloves on—somebody who knew the combination."

Callaghan said: "If this thing only took place four days ago, what's the hurry? Has the robbery been reported?"

Nikolls nodded. "Yeah... but the Globe and International want a check-up good an' quick because this guy Jerrington is due to close down his business and leave for South Africa with his wife in a week's, time. He wants the claim settled before he goes, see? The Globe want you to do a quick routine check-up on it."

Callaghan asked: "Who did you talk to at the insurance company?"

"I talked to Lloyd. He's been in touch with Scotland Yard."

Callaghan asked, "Have they any ideas?"

Nikolls shrugged his shoulders. "The only thing they can think of is the secretary. This guy Jerrington had a secretary—a heavy blonde—a good-looker—one of those dames with what it takes. There's a sorta rumor that Jerrington was stuck on her. A fortnight ago he gives her a week's notice an' she goes."

"Is the idea that the secretary stole the necklace and took it with her?" asked Callaghan.

"They wouldn't know," said Nikolls.

Callaghan yawned. He said: "Well, if the thing's been stolen, the insurance company have to pay."

"Yeah," said Nikolls. "They don't mind so much because they think they're lucky anyway."

Callaghan asked: "Why?"

Nikolls said: "Look...  this pearl an' diamond necklace was insured with the Globe and International ten years ago by Jerrington, see? He insured it for fifteen thousand pounds. He's always paid his premiums and everything's been O.K. Four weeks ago Jerrington rings through to the company an' says he thinks he oughta increase the insurance."

Nikolls sneered a bit. "He's dead right, too," he said, "that necklace is worth about five times what it was worth when he bought it. So the Globe and International sent a man along to value it. This guy says the value of the necklace to-day is somewhere round about fifty thousand pounds. They suggest that's the sum it should be insured for, but the premium would go up too an' Jerrington isn't so sure about that. He says he wants some time to think it over. Well, he hadn't made up his mind before it was pinched."

Callaghan drew on his cigarette. He said: "The Globe and International were lucky. If Jerrington had paid the additional premium and taken out the extra insurance, they would have had to pay out fifty thousand instead of fifteen."

Nikolls nodded. "That's right."

Callaghan looked at his watch. He said: "I'm going to lunch. Maybe I'll look in and see Jerrington some time this afternoon."

He stopped at the doorway.

"Does anybody know where the secretary is-the girl Jerrington sacked?"

Nikolls said: "Yeah... she's got an apartment at Carfax Court at Hampstead—No. 10 or 11 or something. I got the address written down."

Going out to the outer office for a minute Nikolls returned with a folded slip of paper. He gave it to Callaghan, who put it in his pocket.

Nikolls said: "Are you going to be back to-day? You look to me like you got a hang-over."

Callaghan said: "I have got a hang-over and I don't know if I'll be back."

He went out to have his lunch. Eventually, he paid for it, got into his car, and drove to the Aldwych. He found the Jerrington office on the first floor.

When he was shown into Jerrington's room, he said: "I won't waste a lot of your time, Mr. Jerrington. My name's Callaghan, of Callaghan Investigations. I'm investigator for the Globe and International Insurance. They've asked me to talk to you about your claim for the missing necklace. Is there anything you'd like to say about it? This inquiry is, of course, merely routine."

Jerrington nodded his head. He was well-dressed—a strong, manly looking type. He indicated a chair for Callaghan.

He said: "This robbery is a nuisance so far as I'm concerned. Not so long ago I thought that I ought to increase the insurance on the necklace. I got the Globe and International to value it and they assessed the value at nearly fifty thousand pounds—very much more than it's insured for at the moment. I said I'd like to consider the business because the new premium would be very heavy. Then I came to the conclusion that it would be better for me to sell the necklace than to pay the additional insurance. You see, my wife wore it very  seldom—so seldom that I kept it here in the office safe.

"Four days ago I arranged to take my wife out and went to the safe to get the necklace for her. It was gone. It's tough luck on me because if I'd re-insured it for the extra amount, the company would have to pay me nearly fifty thousand instead of a measly fifteen; or, if I'd sold it at once, after the valuation, I should have got at least forty thousand."

Callaghan nodded. "It's not so good for you," he said. "By the way, I'm told that your secretary left you not long ago. I suppose it isn't possible that she might have taken the necklace? Did she know the safe combination?"

"I don't know," said Jerrington. "I've never told her what it was, but she's seen me open that safe so many times that it's a stone certainty that she must have learned the combination. However, I can't make myself believe that she'd do a thing like that. She'd been with me a long time." He hesitated; then he said: "Except for one thing—" He stopped talking suddenly; shrugged his shoulders.

Callaghan asked: "What thing?"

Jerrington smiled. "Oh well, I might as well get it off my chest. Marion Lanning was a very good-looking girl—a blonde. Quite beautiful, in fact. Well... some business friends of mine rather foolishly ribbed my wife about my secretary's looks."

Jerrington made a vague gesture. "They were only pulling her leg, of course," he said, "but unfortunately she took it seriously, and it made a little trouble between us. So I thought the easiest way out was to give Miss Lanning her notice. I did that two weeks ago. I gave her a cheque as a present, and we parted the best of friends."

Callaghan nodded. "I suppose there wasn't any truth in the joke your friends made about you and Miss Lanning?"

Jerrington grinned. "Well... not really," he said diffidently, "I suppose Marion and I flirted a bit now and again."

Callaghan lit a cigarette.

"Women do funny things," he said. "Do you suppose it's quite impossible that Marion Lanning, fed-up with your wife's being responsible for her getting the sack, took the necklace with her when she left. So as to get back at your wife?"

"I can't think it's possible," said Jerrington. "Of course, I couldn't swear it's not possible. Women can do the most extraordinary things."

Callaghan nodded. "Especially if they're jealous."

He got up; flicked the ash from his cigarette. He said:

"I think I'd better have a word with Miss Lanning. Do you know where she's to be found?"

"She used to live at St. John's Wood," said Jerrington. "But she told me when she left that she was moving. I don't think I asked her to leave the new address. There was no need."

Callaghan said: "It doesn't matter. I remember my assistant gave me her address—No. 11 Carfax Court, Hampstead. I'll go along and see her. Just a routine call. So as to clear every possible angle. Naturally, you want the claim paid as soon as possible."

"I do," said Jerrington. "My wife and I are leaving England in five days' time. I'd like everything to be settled before then. When do you think you can let me know about the payment?"

"The police have nothing to report—although they haven't had much time," Callaghan said. "Still... I'll go and see Miss Lanning at four thirty this afternoon. After I've seen her I'll get through to the Globe and International and give them my report on the telephone. As you're leaving, they'll probably pay the claim within the next two days with the proviso that if the necklace is recovered they will be entitled to any additional profit on the sale. That's the usual thing."

Jerrington said: "It's going to be tough if they pay me the fifteen thousand, and then the find the necklace and sell it for fifty thousand. Especially after all the insurance premiums I've paid on the darned thing."

Callaghan nodded. "But if the necklace doesn't turn up. you'll have the fifteen thousand, which is better in nothing."

He lit a fresh cigarette.

"I'll see Miss Lanning at four thirty and telephone the Company afterwards. Then, when I've spoken to them. I'll call you on the telephone and tell you when you can expect the cheque. How's that?"

Jerrington held out his hand.

"That's very kind of you," he said. "I'll be working late to-day, so you can get me any time up to eight o'clock tonight." He grinned at Callaghan. "Give my regards to Marion Lanning when you see her," he said.

Callaghan said he would. He went away.


JUST after four-thirty Callaghan stopped his car outside the apartment block at Hampstead.

He went in through he main entrance. An arrow on the wall opposite him informed him that the first corridor to the right led to Flats Nos. 1-20.

He walked down the corridor. Three-quarters of the way down it turned abruptly to the left. As he walked around the corner, a woman came out of No. 11. He stopped. She was well worth looking at. The woman was tall and shapely, exquisitely dressed, with big blue eyes and a demure expression.

She asked: "Were you looking for No. 11 by any chance?"

Callaghan said: "Yes. I'm looking for a Miss Marion Lanning."

She smiled. "I am Miss Lanning. Can I do something for you? I was going to tea." Her smile deepened.

Callaghan said: "I'd like to talk to you, Miss Lanning, on a rather important matter. I wonder if you'd be good enough to have tea with me?"

She raised her eyebrows.

Callaghan said quickly: "Actually, I'm an investigator from the Globe and International Insurance Company. A necklace belonging to the wife of your late employer, Mr. Jerrington, has been stolen from his office. I thought I'd like to talk to you about it."

She said: "Oh, dear... how dramatic... I'm most interested. And there's a rather nice tea-room near here."

The tea-room was empty and quiet. Callaghan watched her as she poured the tea. He thought she was a very attractive woman; that maybe Mrs. Jerrington hadn't been so stupid.

She asked: "Now, Mr. Callaghan, how can I help you?"

"You can help me by not being offended at what I'm going to say, Miss Lanning. As you probably know, when a valuable piece of jewellery is stolen and the police have been advised, the owner, the insurance company make their own inquiries. Their idea is not necessarily to put anybody into prison for stealing the necklace, but if possible to secure its return. Do you understand that?"

She nodded. "I understand."

He went on: "I called on Mr. Jerrington this afternoon. Apparently, he is the only one in the office who knows the combination of the safe. The safe hadn't been forced. It had been opened by somebody who knew the combination; somebody who knew that the necklace was there; somebody who knew that it was left there for long periods without even being looked at."

He smiled at her. "There is only one person who seems to fill the bill, Miss Lanning."

She raised her eyebrows. She said: "Really!"

"Yes," said Callaghan. "You see, Jerrington told me that some of his friends had been ribbing his wife about his lovely secretary." He smiled at her. "They were right, too. I think you are one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen in my life."

She said, "Thank you very much, sir!"

"He told me," Callaghan went on, "that his wife began to take this ribbing rather seriously; that it caused a little trouble between him and her, so he decided that the best thing to do was to give you a substantial cheque and your notice. Is that right?"

She said: "Yes... I suppose so. I was sorry to go, but, well..." She shrugged her shoulders prettily. "I understood the position."

"Quite!" said Callaghan. "Now, please don't take offence. You'd been with Jerrington for a long time. He's quite an attractive man. Maybe you were a little keen on him. If you were, it might be that you were very angry at having to leave him because of Mrs. Jerrington. Possibly you didn't like that. It occurred to mc that you might have taken that necklace just to put her nose out of joint, and not because you are a thief."

She looked at him demurely. She said: "Mr Callaghan, what am I supposed to say?"

"You're not supposed to say anything. Here's the point: Supposing, for the sake of argument, you did take that necklace, it's not going to do you any good. You'll find it fearfully difficult to dispose of. Even a professional cracksman would have to have that necklace and its pendant broken up and sold at a great loss in order not to risk detection. You can understand that, can't you?''

She nodded.

He went on: "I've told you that I represent the Globe and International. I'm not a policeman. I'm not interested in arresting anybody. I want, if possible, to look after the interests of my principals; to get that necklace back."

She said softly: "I see..."

"I wonder if you'd care to trust me," said Callaghan. "To believe what I m going to tell you."

She looked at him for a long time. He thought her eyes were very blue, very beautiful.

"Yes, I do trust you, Mr. Callaghan," she said eventually. "Now tell me why I have to trust you."

He said: "Miss Lanning, let's suppose, just for the sake of argument, that you were fearfully annoyed with Mrs. Jerrington; that you didn't want to leave Jerrington's employ; that when he sacked you, you planned to do something to hurt her; that through having watched Jerrington open the safe, you knew the combination; that on the day you left you opened the safe and took that necklace."

Smiling comfortingly at her, Callaghan went on: "All right. That necklace isn't very much use to you, except as a means of annoying Mrs. Jerrington. But it's of use to the insurance company."

Marion Lanning nodded her blonde head as if in complete agreement.

"Now, as you probably know," he went on, "an insurance company is always prepared to pay a reward of approximately ten per cent, of the value of the article stolen to anyone who gives information that leads to its recovery. Ten per cent, of fifteen thousand pounds is fifteen hundred pounds, isn't it, Miss Lanning?"

She said: "Yes... Quite a nice sum."

Callaghan drank some tea. He smiled at her. He said, "Now if by, shall we say, tomorrow morning, you were prepared to come to my office to see me personally and to tell me, as between you and me, that you might know where the necklace was, knowing that you'd get fifteen hundred pounds for the information—having understood all that, Miss Lanning, will you now tell me definitely that you know nothing about the disappearance of the necklace?"

She thought for a moment, then she said: "Mr. Callaghan, I think you're a very understanding man. I believe what you say, and I'm sure I trust you." Her smile was radiant. "But if you wouldn't mind, I would like to think this over. I wonder if you'd like to give me your office address. I'll come and see you to-morrow morning about eleven o'clock."

Callaghan said, "That will be wonderful." He felt in his pocket for a piece of paper and pencil; took out the folded sheet of paper that Nikolls had given him that morning with Miss Lanning's address written on it.

Tearing a strip off, he wrote his name and office address on the piece of paper; gave it to her.

With a smile, Callaghan said, "I shall look forward to seeing you to-morrow morning at eleven o'clock. Now, will you forgive me if I go?"

She smiled at him. Callaghan smiled back. When he stopped at the cash desk to pay the bill, he took the opportunity to take another look at Miss Lanning. He thought she was worth it.


CALLAGHAN drove slowly towards Carfax Court. When he arrived he parked his car on the opposite side of the road, walked across, and entered the building.

Twenty minutes afterwards he came out, started up the car, stopped at a call-box two hundred yards down the road.

He dialled his office number.

When Effie Thompson came on the line he said: "Effie, tell Nikolls to get cracking and find out Jerrington's private address. Tell him he's got to get a ripple on. I'll be ringing through for it in fifteen minutes."

She said, "Wry well, Mr. Callaghan."

Callaghan hung up. He went back to the car, lit a cigarette and relaxed. He was still thinking about Miss Lanning. He thought that she was nice to think about.

At a quarter to eight that evening, Callaghan pushed open the outer door of Jerrington's office and went in. He walked across the deserted secretary's office, tapped on the door of Jerrington's room, pushed it open without waiting for a reply, went in. Jerrington was sitting at his desk signing letters.

He said, "I'm glad to see you, Mr. Callaghan. I hope you have good news for me."

"I'm not certain," said Callaghan. "We'll wait for your wife."

Jerrington said, "What do you mean?"

"You've slipped up, Jerrington," said Callaghan. "When I was leaving my office this morning to come round and see you, my assistant, who'd got some information from the insurance company about this matter, told me your secretary had left you not long before the necklace was stolen. I asked him what her address was. He said it was No. 10 or No. 11 Carfax Court—or something like that."

Callaghan paused dramatically and then went on, "He said he had the address written on a piece of paper. He gave it to me but I didn't look at it. I put it in my pocket. When I saw you I had the idea in my head that Miss Lanning lived at No. 11 Carfax Court. I told you that she lived at No. 11 Carfax Court.

"I also told you that I was going to see her at four-thirty this afternoon. That suited your book. Immediately I'd left your office, you telephoned through to your wife, who is also your accomplice in this little matter, told her to drive to Carfax Court as quickly as possible, to stand inside the main entrance so that she could see when I approached, and to be discovered in the act of leaving No. 11.

"You knew that, because you'd described your secretary as blonde and beautiful, and because I saw this blonde and beautiful woman leaving No. 11, I should think that she was Miss Lanning, your secretary.

"Well, I did think that—more especially as I was assisted in the process by Mrs. Jerrington, who told me she was Miss Lanning. We went and had tea, and she did all the things you told her to do.

"She deliberately gave me the impression that she had stolen the necklace to get back at Mrs. Jerrington. She arranged to see me tomorrow morning at eleven o'clock to decide whether she'd return it and take the ten per cent reward, which I'd held out to her as a bait to confess that she'd got the necklace."

Callaghan lit a cigarette. He went on: "Up to that time I was the sucker. I'd fallen for the whole thing—hook, line, and sinker. I believed that the woman I was talking to was Marion Lanning. I believed that she had stolen the necklace because she hated Mrs. Jerrington."

He grinned happily. "And then one of those things happened," he said. "She asked me to write down my address so that she'd know where to come the next day. I knew I had a piece of paper in my pocket—the paper my assistant had given me with Marion Lanning's address on it." Jerrington was staring at Callaghan, but he went right on.

"So I tore a piece off," Callaghan said, "to write my office address down, and on the other side of the remaining piece I saw Marion Lanning's real address. It wasn't No. 11 Carfax Court—it was No. 10 Carfax Court. And how do you like that, Jerrington?"

Jerrington gasped; looked at Callaghan with his mouth open.

Callaghan continued: "I went back to Carfax Court to No. 10—and found the real Marion Lanning. You'd planned it very nicely. You knew that she's leaving tonight for Canada, where she's got a job, so that to-morrow, when the supposed Marion Lanning didn't turn up at my office, then we should be certain that she'd stolen the necklace and taken it with her. In which case the insurance company would have paid you fifteen thousand pounds. And you'd have the necklace, too!"

He blew a smoke ring and watched it sail towards the ceiling. The office door opened. Mrs. Jerrington came in. She closed the door; stood with her back to it, her blue eyes moving from her husband to Callaghan.

She said: "It didn't come off. Harry. He knows!"

Jerrington said shortly:

"Well... what are you going to do, Callaghan?"

Callaghan said: "Where's the necklace? I want to see it. Show it to me; then I'll tell you what I'm going to do."

Jerrington got up. He moved across the room to a bookshelf; look out a book. From the recess behind, he produced a blue leather jewel case. He handed it to Callaghan; went back to his chair.

Callaghan opened the case; examined the necklace. He put the case in his pocket. He looked at them and smiled.

He said: "You people planned to have both the necklace and the insurance money. You were going to get out of the country, and when you got out you were going to sell that necklace for big money. And in order to pull off your scheme you didn't give a hang about throwing suspicion on Marion Lanning—that was a dirty bit of work. For which you're going to suffer."

He went on: "If I go back and tell the whole story to the Globe and International, they won't care. They'll just cancel the policy and let it go. They won't have suffered, so why should they worry? But if I do that, you'll still have the necklace and you can sell it and make a very good profit on the job.

"So I'm going to take it with me. I'm going to report that I have an idea who the crook is who stole it. I'm going to advise the insurance company to pay you the fifteen thousand pounds due to you."

Mrs. Jerrington said sharply: "But what about the necklace? What are you going to do with the necklace? It's worth fifty thousand pounds!"

Callaghan grinned at her. "Two or three days after you've received your cheque from the insurance company, I'm going to 'find' the necklace," he said. "Through my underworld connections. I'm going to hand it to the insurance company, and as they will have paid the insurance on it to you, it will be their property. They'll make the profit when they put it up for sale. And how do you like that?"

Jerrington got up. He said: "Look here, Callaghan..."

Callaghan said: "Shut up, Jerrington. Do what I say or be arrested, with your wife, on a charge of conspiracy to defraud. And a further charge of criminal slander against Marion Lanning. You tried to be too clever and it's going to cost you about thirty thousand pounds."

The woman said: "Do as he says, Harry. We've got to."

Callaghan picked up his hat. He said: "Well, children, next time you try something like this, think up something better. I'll report to the company tomorrow. You ought to get your cheque by the end of the week. I hope you'll like it!"

Mrs. Jerrington's eyes flashed. She said: "You've got us where you want us. I suppose you're getting a great laugh out of this."

Callaghan smiled at her amiably. "Not only a laugh, Mrs. Jerrington," he said. "But, in a few days' time, when I manage to find the necklace, I shall also get the fifteen hundred pounds reward from the insurance company. Good evening!"

He went out; closed the door quietly behind him.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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