Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in Illustrated, Odham's, London, 9 Dec 1939
Published under syndication in, e.g.,
The Sydney Sportsman, Australia, 16 March 1942 (this version)
Collected in Mister Caution—Mister Callaghan
William Collins, London, England 1941

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-06-05
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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Headpiece from "The Sydney Sportsman," 16 March 1942

CALLAGHAN was busy lighting a cigarette when MacOliver put down his tea-cup and said:

'There's a sight for tired eyes. If you paid me enough money to get married on, that's the sort of woman I'd get hitched up with.'

Callaghan looked at the woman who had entered the tea-room. She was tall, and walked with an easy grace. Her clothes were expensive and she knew how to wear them. Everything about her showed that indefinable quality that is so difficult to put into words.

He thought that she looked tired and worried. He said to MacOliver: 'You'd never be able to afford a wife like that, no matter how much money you were making.'

He stopped speaking as the woman turned and came towards their table.

'Mr. Callaghan?' she said. She sat down quickly in the vacant chair. 'I've got to speak to you. I'm sorry I couldn't see you in your office but I was afraid of being followed. My business is terribly urgent.'

Callaghan was thinking that her voice matched the rest of her. He thought she was taking trouble to control it.

MacOliver said: 'I'll be getting back to the office.' He went off.

Callaghan signalled the waitress and ordered more tea. He smiled amiably at the woman.

'Nothin's so bad that it couldn't be worse,' he said. He offered her a cigarette. 'What's worrying you and who are you afraid of?'

He lit the cigarette for her and noticed that her fingers were trembling.

'I'll start at the beginning, Mr. Callaghan,' she said. 'Please don't think that I am the type of woman who gets frightened easily. I'm not.'

Callaghan grinned. 'I didn't think you were.'

He poured out a cup of tea for her.

'My name is Czarvas,' she said. 'Mrs. Marion Czarvas. I met my husband last year while I was travelling abroad. He is a foreigner. I was and still am very fond of him.'

'And you've discovered that he is unfaithful to you?' queried Callaghan. 'Is that it?'

'It's worse than that,' she said miserably. 'I've discovered that he is a spy!'

Callaghan raised his eyebrows. He was beginning to be interested.

'I haven't known what to do,' she continued. 'Then I remembered a friend talking about you some months ago. I decided to come and talk to you. If you can help me I'm ready to pay any fee you ask.'

Callaghan nodded.

'Start at the beginning, Madame, and—if I can give you some advice now—let it be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Otherwise we are merely wasting each other's time!'

'I will tell you the complete truth,' she said. 'It was six months ago that I noticed a difference in my husband's behaviour. He became morose and unhappy. He neglected his business. He is a Slovak, and usually of a light-hearted disposition. At night he used to go out on mysterious errands which intrigued me. One night a few weeks before the war began I followed him. He went to a small club in the West End and met another foreigner there. This man is in the pay of a foreign country.

'Naturally I became terribly worried. I did not know what to do.'

'And then something else happened?' asked Callaghan.

'Yes,' she said grimly. 'Something else happened. Possibly you will remember reading in the newspapers last week that some very important documents had been stolen from a car in Regent Street—documents of the greatest national importance. Two nights ago I found them. They were in a document-case hidden behind a bookshelf in my husband's room.

'I was appalled. I suddenly realised that he was a spy, that the meetings be had been having with this strange man, that the reasons for his peculiar behaviour, were all due to that fact.'

Callaghan lit a cigarette.

'And what did you do then?'

'That evening I spoke to him,' he answered. 'I said nothing about the documents. I asked him who his peculiar friend was—and what they were doing. I demanded that he should be frank with me. I threatened to go to the police.'

'And what did he say?' asked Callaghan. 'Did he say anything about the documents?'

'Not a word,' she answered. 'But his attitude was strange. He seemed terribly unhappy. Suddenly I got the idea that he had somehow been forced into assisting this other man; that someone had a hold on him. He said that it would be better for me not to try and find out what he was doing. That I must mind my own business.

'That night he left the flat, taking the document-case with him. He has not returned since. But the day after I received this note from him.'

She handed the sheet of notepaper to Callaghan. On it was written:

It will be best if you do not go to the police as you threatened.
If you do I shall take the only step possible. Franz.

Callaghan put the note in his pocket.

'And what do you imagine is "the only step possible?"' he asked.

'Suicide,' she said miserably. 'I believe that he will kill himself.'

She stubbed out her cigarette end.

'This morning when I came out of the flat,' she went on, 'I realised that he was following me. I imagine he wanted to see if I was going to the police. I thought it might be a good opportunity for me to discover where he was staying. I went into a shop and came out by a side entrance. Then I got into a taxi and drove round to the front. He was waiting for me to come out. After a while he realised that I had evaded him. He took a cab and I followed him. He went to an empty house in St. John's Wood, opened the door with a key and went in.'

'Very interesting,' said Callaghan pleasantly. He sent a thin stream of tobacco smoke out of one nostril.

'And what do you want me to do, Mrs. Czarvas?' he asked.

She leaned across the table. Callaghan became aware of a very attractive perfume.

'Mr. Callaghan, I want you to go to that house. I believe those plans are hidden there. I want you to find them and return them to the Government Department to which they belong. I am certain that the documents are in that house, and I believe that when they are returned to their rightful owners it will be possible for you to talk to my husband, to get him away from this associate who has forced him into this business.'

She stopped talking suddenly. Callaghan saw that there were tears in her eyes. Then she fumbled with her handbag, produced an envelope, and handed it to Callaghan.

'There are 250 in notes in that envelope,' she said. 'That is your fee in advance. The address of the house in St. John's Wood is also there.'

She closed her handbag and looked at Callaghan. All the pathos in the world was in her eyes.

'Will you help me?' she asked.

Callaghan put the envelope into his pocket. He smiled at her.

'All right,' he said. 'I'm working for you.'

He signalled the waitress and ordered more tea.

IT was seven o'clock when Callaghan, having picked his way very carefully through a very dark black-out, arrived back at his office. He hung up his hat, lit a cigarette and sat down at his desk. He was thinking about Mrs. Czarvas. MacOliver had been right when he had said that she was a sight for tired eyes. He looked up as his secretary came into the office.

'There's a gentleman to see you,' she said. 'He's rather odd-looking. His name's Mr. Czarvas, and he says his business, is important.'

'Show him in,' skid Callaghan.

Czarvas came into the office. He stood on the other side of the desk looking at Callaghan. He was a weird-looking person. Muffled in a thick overcoat and scarf which made his short figure look even stumpier than it was, his large tousled head seemed too big for his body. His eyes, decorated with horn-rimmed spectacles with the thickest possible lenses, peered uncertainly at the private detective. Callaghan grinned cheerfully.

'Well, Mr. Czarvas,' he said. 'And what can I do for you?'

Czarvas stuck his hands into the pockets of his overcoat. His large, square-toed shoes were planted firmly on the ground. Callaghan thought that Czarvas could be very tough if the occasion demanded it.

'Meester Callaghan,' said Czarvas. 'Thees afternoon I watch my wife. I see her meet with you in the tea-room. Then I come here after you.'

He paused for a moment.

'You are a police officer?' he queried.

Callaghan shook his head.

'I'm a private detective,' he said. 'And I'm not in the habit of answering questions, Mr. Czarvas. Supposing you tell me what you want?'

'I tell you what I want, Meester Callaghan. You mind your own business. You leave me alone. You tell my wife that also. You tell her that eef she don't, I do what I told her I would do. You understand?'

'I understand,' said Callaghan. 'Is that all?'

'That ees ail, Meester Callaghan,' said Czarvas. He grinned feebly. 'Excep' I theenk you are a big fool,' he said not unpleasantly.

'That's fine,' said Callaghan. 'Well I think you're one, too. You're not worthy of such a good-looking wife either.'

He rang the bell.

'Show this gentleman out,' he said when Effie Thompson appeared. 'You'd better telephone for a taxi for him. I doubt if he'll be able to find his way home in this blackout, especially as he requires such very thick spectacle lenses!'

Czarvas said amiably: 'Thank you, Meester Callaghan, but I have a taxicab that waits outside.' He stumped out of the office.

Callaghan waited until he heard the outer office door close. Then he grabbed his desk telephone and got through to MacOliver's room.

'There's a fellow just going down the stairs, Mac,' he said. 'A short stumpy fellow with thick glasses. He's got a cab waiting outside. Dash down the other staircase and get the number of the cab. I want to know where that bird goes to.'

'O.K.,' said MacOliver.

Callaghan put his feet on the desk and lit a cigarette. Three minutes later MacOliver came in.

'It was no good,' lie said. 'There wasn't any cab waiting outside. And he must have hurried down because when I got to the street he was a good twenty yards away. He stopped a passing cab and got into it. I couldn't get the number, it was too far away and too dark.'

Callaghan nodded.

'Then how did you know it was a cab?' he asked.

MacOliver grinned.

'It had an illuminated sign—'Taxi'—on the front,' he said. 'The driver switched it off when your fellow got in.'

'All right,' said Callaghan. 'It doesn't matter a lot.' He lit another cigarette and began to blow smoke rings.

IT was seven-thirty. Callaghan took his feet off the desk, took his notebook out of his pocket, looked up Mrs. Czarvas' telephone number, and rang through to her. After a minute she came on the line.

'You were right about being followed, Mrs. Czarvas,' said Callaghan. 'Your husband's just been up here. He doesn't seem very happy. He suggests that you and I might find it better to mind our own business.'

'What are you going to do?' she asked.

'I think we've got to move quickly. It's obvious that he's going to do something now. He'll probably make a getaway. I'll tell you what I propose to do. I'm coming round now to pick you up. We'll both go to the house in St. John's Wood. We'll have a showdown. I'll be with you in ten minutes. Will you be ready?'

'Yes,' she answered. 'I'll be waiting for you.'

Callaghan hung up. Then he rang the bell for MacOliver. He gave him his instructions.

IT was eight o'clock when Callaghan stopped the car outside the house in St. John's Wood. He got out. It was so dark he could hardly see a foot in front of him.

'Nice weather for spies, Mrs. Czarvas,' he said.

When she spoke her voice trembled.

'I'm frightened,' she said. 'I feel something awful has happened.'

She put her fingers on Callaghan's arm. He shrugged in the darkness, then produced a torch from his pocket and led the way up the short garden path to the front door of the house. The place seemed deserted, and a 'To Let' sign showed bleakly before the door.

Callaghan took a bunch of skeleton keys from his pocket and in two minutes the front door was open. He stepped into the hall, waited for the woman to follow him, then closed the door. He fanned his torch round the dusty hallway. On the left, a few feet from where they, stood was a half-open door. Through it a light flickered. Callaghan walked through the doorway and switched on the electric light. The room was furnished and warm. A truckle-bed stood in one corner.

Mrs. Czarvas cried out sharply. In front of the gas fire on a white bearskin rug that was stained with his blood lay Czarvas. An automatic pistol was clutched in his hand. Callaghan looked at Mrs. Czarvas. She was leaning against the wall, her hands before her face.

'How fearful,' she sobbed. 'He's killed himself!' Her shoulders shook. 'My poor husband'

'It's tough luck, Mrs. Czarvas. But maybe it's the best way out. If they'd got him, he'd have been shot, anyway.'

'What are we going to do?' she muttered hoarsely.

'The best thing for you to do, said Callaghan, 'is to sit down and relax. I want to see if those plans are here.'

He began to search the room. He went over it systematically. Underneath the mattress on the truckle-bed he found a document-case. He opened it. It was filled with papers. He threw the case on the table.

'Well, there they are,' he said. 'And now—what do you think we ought to do, Mrs. Czarvas?'

She shrugged miserably.

'What is there to do?' she said. 'There is only one thing; we must return the plans and you must tell them the truth.'

Her shoulders shook. 'My poor, poor, Franz,' she sobbed.

Callaghan stood in front of the fireplace looking down at the dead man. He lit a cigarette. Outside from the hall came the sound of footsteps. MacOliver came in. Callaghan said: 'Did you get him?'

'Yes,' said MacOliver. 'They're taking him to the Yard now.'

Mrs. Czarvas sat bolt upright in the chair. Her eyes were wide.

'Mr. Callaghan, what is this? I don't understand.' Callaghan grinned.

'Oh, yes, you do, Mrs. Czarvas,' he said, 'and I'd like to congratulate you. You're one of the best actresses I've ever met. And, incidentally, your scheme was a good one. It nearly came off. It was a very clever idea of yours to reverse the actual process of what had happened about those plans. You and your friend—the gentleman who is now on his way to the Yard—were the spies. You and your associate stole those plans, and your unfortunate husband discovered the fact. He told you that you must either return them or he would go to the police.

'Then you had rather a clever idea. You knew your husband loved you. You knew that it would be almost impossible for him to give information against you. You told him that if he attempted to do so you would accuse him of having stolen the plans. You told him that he was an alien—a foreigner, that no one would take his word against yours.

'You went so far as to tell him you would go and see me, tell me of the situation and ask my advice. It was quite true when you said that Czarvas had been following you. You knew he was following you!

'You waited outside my office and followed me to the tea rooms. You knew that if you saw me in my office he'd come in too. He might have persuaded me that his version of the story was true. So you waited until I went to the tea-room. You knew he wouldn't make a scene there. You knew he'd come and see me afterwards and that I would disbelieve anything he might say. You were right, I did.

'And you were able to support your story by showing me his note saying that if you went to the police he would take the one step possible. You cleverly suggested, to me that by that he meant he would commit suicide. In reality he meant that he would prove that you stole those plans.

'You knew that when Czarvas had seen you with me he would come to my office. He would want to know what you had told me. He would want to protect himself. You knew that he was very short-sighted, that owing to the blackout he would keep a cab waiting outside my office. Whilst he was with me you sent that cab away. You told the driver he wasn't wanted.

'When Czarvas left my office and went down into the street, his taxi was gone. He looked about for another one. It was perhaps an extraordinary coincidence that one happened to be coming along the street. Naturally Czarvas took It. He saw the illuminated 'Taxi' sign. And when he was inside the driver turned the sign off.

'You were in that cab, Mrs. Czarvas, and your friend was driving it. You shot Czarvas in the cab. Then you got out and went home: You expected me to go to the house in St. John's Wood, find your husband's body, conclude that he had shot himself and telephone you at home.

'Then I should find the plans here. I should return them to Scotland Yard, and everyone would know that Czarvas had stolen the plans and committed suicide because you gave him away to me.

'Nobody would worry any more. The Government would have their plans back again, and you and your foreign gentleman friend would be I safe.'

She smiled. She was quite cool.

'There is one flaw in your rather amazing theory, Mr. Callaghan,' she said. 'If I did all this to get those plans, why should I leave them here to be returned to their rightful owners?'

Callaghan grinned. 'Don't be silly, Mrs. Czarvas.' He turned to MacOliver. 'I suppose you found photographic copies of those plans on her boy-friend, didn't you, Mac?' he asked.

MacOliver nodded.

'Correct,' he said.

Mrs. Czarvas got up. She shrugged.

'You win, Mr. Callaghan.' She sighed. 'But I should have liked to have seen my friend before they I took him away.'

Callaghan grinned.

'You will,' he said. 'All that stuff that MacOliver has just told was bluff. We're going round to collect a your friend and the photographic copies now.'

IT was nine o'clock. MacOliver squirted soda-water into his whisky.

'A very nice job, Slim,' he said. 'But I don't understand how you worked out that business about the taxi-cab.'

Callaghan grinned.

'Why don't you read police war regulations, MacOliver?' he said. 'Don't you know that taxi-cabs aren't allowed to have illuminated "Taxi" signs? Didn't you tell me the taxi that picked up Czarvas had one showing, and that the driver switched it off when he got into the cab. That sign was on so that Czarvas could see the cab. It's a pity he didn't look inside before he got in.'


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
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.