فصل 12

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فصل 12

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CHAPTER TWELVE

Two elderly men sat together in a room where everything was square. Almost the only exception was Hercule Poirot: whose stomach was pleasantly rounded, his head looked like an egg in shape, and his moustache curved upwards flamboyantly.

He was looking thoughtfully at Mr Goby, who was small and thin. Mr Goby was famous for collecting information. Very few people knew about him and very few employed his services - but those few were usually extremely rich. They had to be, for Mr Goby was very expensive. His speciality was getting information - quickly. At a word from Mr Goby, hundreds of men and women, old and young, who worked for him, went out to question, investigate, and get results. Mr Goby had now almost retired from business. But he occasionally worked for a few old clients. Hercule Poirot was one of these.

Mr Goby was not looking at Hercule Poirot because Mr Goby never looked directly at anybody. Right now he seemed to be talking to the fireplace. ‘I’ve got what information I could for you. Nowadays you can walk in almost anywhere with a notebook and pencil and ask people all about their lives and they won’t doubt for a minute that you are working for the Government - and that the Government really wants to know! Yes, Government snooping is a gift to investigators and long may it continue!

‘Now,’ said Mr Goby, and took out a little notebook and turned over the pages. ‘Here we are. Mr George Crossfield. He’s been in debt for a while now. He’s been using money from his clients’ trust funds. For three months he’s been worried and bad-tempered in the office. But since his uncle’s death that’s all changed!

‘What he said about being at Hurst Park races is almost certainly untrue. None of the people he usually places his bets with saw him. Nobody saw him in Lytchett St Mary either, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t there. There are other ways to approach the cottage than through the village. He acted in plays at university, by the way. So if he went to the cottage that day, he could have used make up to change the way he looks. I’ll keep him in my book, shall I?’

‘You may keep him in,’ said Hercule Poirot.

Mr Goby turned another page. ‘Mr Michael Shane. He likes money and is very attractive to women. He’s been having an affair with Sorrel Dainton, the actress, and his wife Rosamund doesn’t know about it. She doesn’t know much about anything, it seems. She’s not a good actress, and is crazy about her husband.

‘On the day Mr Shane says he was meeting a Mr Rosenheim and a Mr Oscar Lewis for lunch to discuss a play, he sent them a telegram to say he couldn’t come. What he did do was to go to the Emeraldo Car people and hire a car at about twelve o’clock. He returned it at about six in the evening. The car had been driven just about the right number of miles, but it was not seen in Lytchett St Mary that day. However, there are lots of places he could have left it hidden a mile or so away; there’s even an old quarry a few hundred yards down the road from the cottage. Do we keep Mr Shane in?’

‘Most certainly.’

‘Now Mrs Shane.’ Mr Goby told his left sleeve about Rosamund Shane. ‘She says she was shopping. And she had heard she had inherited money the day before. She has accounts in a number of shops but she hasn’t paid her bills, so it’s possible that she went in here and there, trying on clothes, looking at jewellery, checking prices - and not buying anything! I asked one of my young ladies, who’s knowledgeable about the theatre and the people in it, to follow her and stop by her table in a restaurant, She exclaimed the way they do, “Darling, I haven’t seen you since Way Down Under. You were wonderful in that!” In a minute they were talking theatrical stuff and my girl then said, “I believe I saw you at so and so, on so and so,” giving the day. Most ladies are tricked by that and say, “Oh no, I was…” whatever it may be. But Mrs Shane just looked blank and said, “Oh, maybe. I couldn’t possibly remember.” What can you do with a lady like that?’ Mr Goby shook his head sadly.

‘Nothing,’ said Hercule Poirot with some feeling. ‘I shall never forget the killing of Lord Edgware. I was nearly defeated - yes, I, Hercule Poirot - by the extremely simple cleverness of an empty brain. Very simple-minded people often have the unexpected intelligence to commit a simple crime and then leave it alone. Let us hope that our murderer is intelligent and thoroughly pleased with himself and unable to resist showing off. But continue.’

Once more Mr Goby looked at his little book. ‘Mr and Mrs Banks said they were at home all day. Well, Susan Banks wasn’t. She went round to the garage, got out her car, and drove off in it at about one o’clock. We do not know where she went and she came back at about five. I have no idea how many miles she did that day because she drives every day and, unlike Michael Shane’s hired car, no one keeps a note of the mileage.

‘As for Mr Gregory Banks, we don’t know what he did. He didn’t go to work and it seems he had already asked for a couple of days off because of the funeral. Since then he’s left his job - where they do not like Mr Banks. He used to become very angry at even small things that upset him. Until about four months ago - just before he met his wife and joined this particular chemist’s shop - he was in a nursing home as a patient. He had made some mistake with a medicine he made for a customer at the pharmacy he worked at then. The woman recovered, and there was no prosecution. The shop didn’t sack him, but he resigned and told the doctor he was filled with guilt - that he had done it deliberately. He said that the woman had been rude to him when she came into the shop, and so he had added an almost lethal dose of some drug or other to her medicine. “She had to be punished for speaking to me like that!” was what he said. The doctors don’t believe it was deliberate at all, he was just careless, but they say that he wanted to make it important and serious. Anyway, this nursing home cured him and sent him home, and he met Susan Abernethie. He got the job he’s just left and another pharmacist at the same shop said he had a very bad temper.’

‘Mon ami’ said Hercule Poirot. ‘It really amazes me how you get your information! Medical and highly confidential most of it!’

Mr Goby said, looking at the door, that there were ways… ‘Now we come to Mr and Mrs Timothy Abernethie. They are very short of money. Mr Abernethie enjoys being ill and the emphasis is on the enjoyment. He has everyone fetching and carrying things for him because he says he’s too ill to do anything for himself, but he eats large meals, and seems strong physically. There’s no one in the house after the daily cleaning woman leaves, and she says he was in a very bad temper on the morning of the day after the funeral. He was alone in the house and nobody saw him from 9.30 that morning until the following morning.’

‘And Mrs Maude Abernethie?’

‘Everyone says she is a very nice lady. She left Enderby by car and arrived on foot at a small garage in a village on the way. She explained that her car had broken down a couple of miles away.

‘A mechanic drove her out to it and said they would have to get it in to the garage and it would be a long job. The lady went to a small hotel, arranged to stay the night, and asked for some sandwiches to take with her as she said she would like to go out walking and see something of the countryside. She didn’t come back to the hotel till late that evening.’

‘And the times?’

‘She got the sandwiches at eleven. If she had walked to the main road, a mile away, she could have got a lift into a town called Wallcaster and caught an express train which stops near Lytchett St Mary. It could just have been done if the murder had happened fairly late in the afternoon.’

‘What exactly was wrong with the car?’

‘Do you want the exact details, Monsieur Poirot?’

‘No, no! I have no mechanical knowledge.’

‘It was a difficult thing to find. And also to fix. And it could have been done deliberately by someone who was familiar with the insides of a car.’

‘Wonderful!’ said Poirot. ‘Can we clear nobody from suspicion? And Mrs Helen Abernethie?’

‘She’s a very nice lady, too, and Mr Richard Abernethie was very fond of her. She came there to stay about two weeks before he died.’

‘Was that after he had been to Lytchett St Mary to see his sister?’

‘No, just before. Mrs Helen’s income is less, since the war, than it used to be. She has a house in Cyprus and spends part of the year there. She also has a young nephew whose school fees she is paying.’

Poirot shut his eyes. ‘And it was impossible for her to have left Enderby that day without the servants knowing? Say that is so, I beg you!’

Mr Goby looked down at Poirot’s shoes. ‘I’m afraid I can’t say that, Monsieur Poirot. Mrs Abernethie went to London to get some extra clothes because she had agreed with Mr Entwhistle to stay on and see to things.’

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