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CHAPTER TWELVE

Hercule Poirot paused in the middle of a sentence that he was dictating and waved a hand. ‘This letter is not important. If you please, Miss Lemon, get me your sister on the telephone.’

A few moments later he took the receiver from his secretary’s hand. ‘I trust, Mrs Hubbard, that I am not disturbing you?’

‘Not at all. I’m so glad you’ve phoned, Monsieur Poirot.’

‘There have been difficulties, yes?’

‘That’s a very nice way of saying it. Inspector Sharpe came with a search warrant today and I’ve got Mrs Nicoletis here shouting at me.’

‘I am sorry,’ Poirot said, ‘it is just a little question I have to ask. You sent me a list of those things that had disappeared, but did you write that list in the order they were taken?’

‘No, I’m sorry, I just wrote them down as I thought of them.’

‘Would it be too difficult for you to remember and write what was the proper order?’

‘Well, the rucksack, I believe, was the first, and the light bulbs and then the bracelet and the compact, no - the evening shoe. Anyway, I’ll do the best I can.’

‘Thank you, Madame.’ Poirot hung up the phone. ‘I am displeased with myself, Miss Lemon. I forgot to employ my usual principles of order and method. I should have made quite sure from the start, the exact sequence of these events.’

On arrival back at Hickory Road with a search warrant, Inspector Sharpe had demanded an interview with Mrs Nicoletis, who always came on Saturdays to do the accounts. He had explained what he was about to do.

‘But it is an insult, that!’ Mrs Nicoletis said. ‘My students, they will all leave. I shall be ruined…’

‘Madam, this is a murder case.’

‘It is not murder - it is suicide.’

‘So, I’ll start here, in your sitting room.’

‘Here, no! I refuse,’ Mrs Nicoletis shouted. 7 am above the law.’

‘No one is above the law. So, please, stand aside.’ He started with the desk. A large box of chocolates and a mass of papers were all he found. He moved from there to a cupboard. ‘This is locked. Can I have the key, please?’

‘Never!’ shouted Mrs Nicoletis. ‘You will have to tear my clothes off me before you get the key!’

‘Get the tool. Cobb,’ said Inspector Sharpe.

Mrs Nicoletis gave a cry of anger. Inspector Sharpe took no notice. The tool was brought. Two sharp cracks and the door was open and a large collection of empty brandy bottles poured out of the cupboard.

‘Pig!’ cried Mrs Nicoletis.

‘Thank you, Madam,’ said the Inspector. ‘We’ve finished in here.’ One mystery, the mystery of Mrs Nicoletis’s moods, was now solved.

‘Drink this,’ said Mrs Hubbard, handing Mrs Nicoletis a cup of tea. ‘And you’ll soon feel better. There is nothing more to worry about now.’

‘That is all very well for you. Me, I have to worry. It is not safe for me any longer.’

‘Safe?’ Mrs Hubbard looked at her, surprised.

‘It was my private cupboard,’ Mrs Nicoletis insisted. ‘Nobody knew what was in my private cupboard. And now they do know. They may think - what will they think?’

‘Who do you mean by they?’

Mrs Nicoletis shook her head. ‘Thank goodness I do not sleep here.’

Mrs Hubbard said, ‘Mrs Nicoletis, if you are afraid of something, wouldn’t it be best to tell me what it is?’

Mrs Nicoletis gave her a quick look from her dark eyes. ‘You have said yourself, there has been a murder in this house, so who may be next?’

‘Then tell me if you have any reason to be so anxious…’ Mrs Nicoletis interrupted her. ‘You are a spy - I always knew it. If lies are told about me I shall know who told them.’

‘If you wish me to leave,’ said Mrs Hubbard, ‘you only have to say so.’

‘No, you are not to leave. I will not allow it.’

‘Oh, all right,’ said Mrs Hubbard. ‘But really, it’s very difficult to know what you do want. Sometimes I don’t think you know yourself what you want.’

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