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CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

‘I haven’t seen you for a long time,’ said old Mr Endicott to Hercule Poirot. ‘It’s very nice of you to call.’

‘Not really,’ said Hercule Poirot. ‘I want something.’

‘Well, as you know, I am very grateful to you. You cleared up that unpleasant Abernethie business for me.’ The old lawyer smiled.

‘Sir Arthur Stanley was a good friend, was he not?’

‘Yes. And we’ve looked after his legal work since he was young.’

‘His death was mentioned on the six o’clock news yesterday, I believe.’

‘Yes. The funeral’s on Friday.’

‘Lady Stanley died some years ago?’

‘Two and a half years ago.’ He looked sharply at Poirot.

‘How did she die?’

‘Too much of a sleeping drug. The inquest found that she took it accidentally.’

‘Did she?’

Mr Endicott was silent for a moment. ‘It seems so. There was no suggestion of suicide.’

‘And no suggestion of - anything else?’

Again he looked sharply at Poirot. ‘Her husband said that she did sometimes get confused after taking the drug and ask for more.’

‘Was he lying?’

‘Really, Poirot, why do you think that I could possibly know?’

Poirot smiled. ‘I think, my friend, that you know very well. But I will not embarrass you by asking you that. Instead I will ask you for an opinion. Was Arthur Stanley the type of man who would kill his wife if he wanted to marry another woman?’

Mr Endicott was shocked. ‘Certainly not! And there was no other woman. Stanley loved his wife.’

‘Yes,’ said Poirot. ‘I thought so. And now I will tell you the purpose of my call. Arthur Stanley had a son. The son quarrelled with his father at the time of his mother’s death, and then left home. He even changed his name.’

‘That I did not know.’

‘So did Arthur Stanley leave a letter with you, a letter to be opened under certain conditions or after his death?’

‘Poirot, how can you possibly know the things you do?’

‘I am right then? I think there were two choices in the letter. It was either to be destroyed - or you were to perform a certain action.’

‘This matter is private. Even from you, Poirot -‘ Mr Endicott shook his head.

‘And if I show you good cause why you should speak?’

‘How can you possibly know anything at all about this matter?’ Poirot took a deep breath. ‘It is in my mind that your instructions are these. If Sir Arthur dies, you are to find his son Nigel, and discover if he is involved in any criminal activity.’ This time Mr Endicott gave a sharp sound of surprise. ‘Well, as you seem to know all about it, I’ll tell you anything you want to know. You must have met young Nigel in the course of your professional activities. What’s he done now?’

‘I think the story goes like this. After he had left home, he changed his name. He then met some people who were involved in smuggling - drugs and jewels. I think it was his idea to use innocent students to carry things. The whole operation was organized by two people, Nigel Chapman, as he now called himself, and a young woman called Valerie Hobhouse. Everything went well until one day a police officer came to a students’ hostel to ask questions about a murder near Cambridge. But Nigel thought the police were after him. He removed certain electric bulbs so that the light would be faint, and he also took a certain rucksack outside, cut it to pieces and threw it behind the boiler. He was afraid some remains of drugs might be found in its false bottom. His fear was unnecessary, but one of the girls in the hostel had happened to look out of her window and had seen him destroying the rucksack. That did not immediately mean she had to die. Instead, she was persuaded to commit certain stupid actions which would put her in a difficult position. But they pushed that idea too far. I was called in.

‘I advised going to the police. The girl was frightened and admitted what she had done. But only the things she had done. And she went, I think, to Nigel, and urged him to admit to the rucksack business and to spilling ink over a fellow student’s work. Neither Nigel nor Valerie could consider calling attention to the rucksack - their whole plan would be ruined. Celia, the young girl, she knew too much. The next evening she went out to meet Nigel somewhere. He gave her some coffee and in it was morphia. She died in her sleep with everything arranged to look like suicide.’

An expression of deep upset crossed Mr Endicott’s face.

‘But that was not the end,’ said Poirot. ‘The woman who owned the hostels died soon after and then, finally, there came the last, most cruel and heartless crime. Patricia Lane, a girl who loved Nigel, told him that he should go to see his father before he died. He told her some lies about his family, and destroyed her letter to his father, but he knew that she might write a second letter. I think, my friend, that you can tell me why that would have been such a deadly thing to happen.’

Mr Endicott stood up, went across to a safe, unlocked it, and came back with a long envelope in his hand. He took out two letters and laid them before Poirot.

Dear Endicott,

You will open this after I am dead. I wish you to find my son Nigel and discover if he has been guilty of any criminal actions.

Nigel has twice been guilty of forging my name to a cheque. On each occasion I said the signature was mine, but warned him that I would not do so again. On the third occasion it was his mother’s name he forged. He asked her to keep silent. She refused. It was then that he put an extra amount of her sleeping mixture into her glass. Before she fell asleep, however, she had told me about the cheque. When, the next morning, she was found dead, I knew who had done it.

I told Nigel that I intended to go to the police. He was very upset and kept asking me not to. What would you have done, Endicott? I know my son is one of those dangerous people who have no sense of pity. I had no reason to save him. But it was the thought of my wife that decided me. Would she wish me to bring our son to justice? I thought that I knew the answer - she would have wanted him saved.

But I firmly believe that once a killer, always a killer. There might be, in the future, other victims. I made a deal with my son, and whether I did right or wrong, I do not know. He was to write out a confession of his crime which I would keep. He was to leave my house and never return. I would give him a second chance. Money belonging to his mother would come to him. He had had a good education. He had every chance of making a better life for himself.

But - if he committed any criminal activity at all, the confession he had left with me would go to the police. I also made myself safe because my own death would not prevent that happening.

You are my oldest friend. Find Nigel. If his record is clean, destroy both these letters. If not - then justice must be done.

Your loving friend,

Arthur Stanley

‘Ah!’ Poirot breathed out and unfolded the other piece of paper.

I hereby confess that I murdered my mother by giving her an extra amount of her sleeping medicine on November 18th.

Nigel Stanley.

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