فصل 02

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CHAPTER TWO

A Cruel and Dangerous Man

When Poirot woke, the train was still not moving. There was deep snow all around them. In the restaurant carriage, everyone was complaining about the delay.

‘How long will we be here?’ Mary Debenham asked. ‘Doesn’t anybody know?’

Her voice sounded impatient, but she was not upset in the way that she had been at the delay before reaching Istanbul.

Mrs Hubbard replied, ‘Nobody knows anything on this train, and nobody’s trying to do anything. If this was in America, people would at least try to do something! My daughter says -‘ The morning continued in this way. Poirot learnt a lot more about Mrs Hubbard’s daughter and about the habits of Mr Hubbard, who had recently died.

Turning round, Poirot noticed a conductor at his elbow - not the conductor from the night before, but a big, fair man.

‘Excuse me, Monsieur,’ he said. ‘M. Bouc would be grateful it you could come to him for a few minutes.’

Poirot made his excuses to the ladies and followed the conductor to a compartment in the next carriage. M. Bouc was sitting there with a small, dark man, and a man in a blue uniform - the train manager. The conductor from the night before was standing by the window.

‘My good friend,’ cried M. Bouc, ‘we need your help!’

M. Bouc was clearly upset. Poirot realised at once that the matter was serious. ‘What has happened?’ he asked.

‘Well, first this terrible snow - this delay. And now -‘

He stopped.

‘And now what?’

‘And now a passenger lies murdered in his bed.’

‘Which passenger?’ asked M. Poirot.

‘An American. A mad called - called -‘ M. Bouc looked at his notes. ‘Ratchett. It is a disaster! A murder is bad enough. But the train cannot move. We may be here for days. We have no police on board, and Dr Constantine thinks that the murderer is still among us.’

The small, dark man now spoke. ‘The window of M. Ratchett’s compartment was found wide open, but there were no footprints in the snow. No one left the train that way.’

‘At what time was the murder?’ asked the detective.

‘It is difficult to give an exact time,’ replied the doctor, ‘but it was some time between midnight and 2 a.m.’

‘And the crime was discovered - when?’

M. Bouc turned to Michel, the conductor by the window, who looked pale and frightened.

‘The waiter from the restaurant carriage wanted to know if Monsieur wanted lunch,’ said the conductor. ‘There was no answer. I opened the door with my key, but there was a bolt too.

I called the train manager. We cut through the bolt and went in. He was - it was terrible. Terrible!’ He hid his face in his hands.

‘The door was locked and bolted on the inside,’ said Poirot thoughtfully. ‘Perhaps he killed himself?’

‘Does a man kill himself with twelve knife wounds in the chest?’ asked the doctor.

‘It was a woman,’ said the train manager, speaking for the first time. ‘Only a woman would kill like that.’

‘Then it was a very strong woman,’ said the doctor. ‘The knife went through bone in some places.’

‘So, my friend, you see our problem.’ M. Bouc looked at the detective. ‘Can you help us?’

‘What exactly do you want me to do?’ M. Poirot asked. ‘Take command of the case! When the police arrive, there will be problems, delays, unpleasantness. It would be so much better if the case was already solved when they arrived. And you are the perfect man for the job. Examine the body and interview the passengers. You will not be able to check their stories, but you once said, “To solve a case, a man just has to he back in his chair and think.” Do that - and you will know!’

‘I accept the case willingly,’ smiled the detective. ‘It will help to pass the time.’

‘Wonderful!’ said M. Bouc. ‘We will help you in any way that we can.’

‘First, I would like a plan of the carriage where the murder took place, with a note of the names of the people in each compartment. I will also need their passports and tickets.’

‘Michel will get you those.’

The conductor left the compartment.

‘Who are the other passengers on the train?’ asked M. Poirot. ‘In this carriage, Dr Constantine and I are the only travellers. Behind this are the third-class carriages, but they were locked after dinner last night. In front, there is only the restaurant carriage.’

‘So it seems likely that the murderer is now in the American’s carriage,’ said Poirot.

‘Yes,’ agreed Dr Constantine. ‘At half past midnight we were stopped by the snow. No one has left the train since then - or at least, there are certainly no footprints in the snow.’

‘First I would like to speak with young M. MacQueen,’ said Poirot. ‘He may be able to give us some useful information.’ The train manager fetched MacQueen.

‘What’s the problem?’ asked the American nervously as he sat down opposite Poirot. ‘Has anything happened?’

‘Yes, Monsieur,’ answered the detective. .’Prepare yourself for a shock. Your employer, M. Ratchett, has been murdered.’ MacQueen’s eyes seemed brighter, but except for this he showed no signs of shock. ‘So they got him after all,’ he said. ‘What do you mean, M. MacQueen?’

MacQueen paused. ‘And you are -?’

‘I am a detective working for the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits. My name is M. Hercule Poirot. Now, please, tell me what you mean, They got him after all.’

‘Well, he has been getting letters. Threatening letters.’

‘Did you see them?’

‘Yes. I am - was - his secretary. It was my job to answer his letters. The first came last week. Would you like to see it?’

‘Yes, that would he most helpful,’ replied the detective. MacQueen left, and soon returned with a rather dirty piece of notepaper. Poirot read the carefully printed handwriting: You thought you could cheat us, didn’t you? Well, you were wrong. We’re going to get you, Ratchett!

‘And the other letters were similar?’ asked the detective.

‘Yes, very similar. Ratchett pretended to laugh about them, but I could see that they worried him.’

‘How long have you been working for M. Ratchett?’

‘A year. He travelled around a lot, but he spoke no languages except English. I was more his translator than his secretary.’

‘Now, tell me as much as you can about your employer.’

‘That’s not so easy.’ He looked confused.

‘He was an American citizen?’

‘Yes.’

‘What part of America was he from?’

‘I don’t know. I know almost nothing about him. Mr Ratchett never spoke of himself, or his family, or his life in America.’

‘Why was that, do you think?’

‘Well, I think he was hiding something - something in his past. I’m not even sure that Ratchett was his real name.’

‘One last question. Did you have a good relationship with your employer?’

‘Well, yes, I did. I didn’t like him very much as a person, but I had no problems with him as an employer.’

‘You did not like him. Why was that?’

‘I can’t exactly say.’ He paused, then continued, ‘He was, I am sure, a cruel and dangerous man. I have no reason for this opinion, M. Poirot, but I feel it very strongly.’

‘Thank you for your honesty, Mr MacQueen.’

M. Poirot and Dr Constantine went together to the compartment of the murdered man. It was freezing cold inside. The window was pushed down as far as it could go.

‘I did not like to close it,’ said the doctor. ‘Nothing has been touched in here, and I was careful not to move the body when I examined it.’

‘Good,’ said Poirot. He checked the window for fingerprints, but there were none. ‘Criminals these days are always careful about fingerprints. And you were right, Doctor. There are no footprints in the snow. No one left the carriage through this window - although perhaps the murderer wanted us to think that he did.’

Poirot closed the window and turned his attention to the body. Ratchett was lying on his back in the bed. The detective bent down to look at the wounds.

‘How many wounds are there exactly?’ he asked.

‘Twelve, I think. Some are very slight, but at least three are serious enough to cause death. And there is something strange. These two wounds - here and here -‘ He pointed. ‘They are deep, but they have not bled in the normal way.’

‘Which means -?

‘That the man was already dead - dead for some time - when

these wounds were made. But that seems impossible.’

‘Unlikely, certainly - unless our murderer was worried that he hadn’t done the job right the first time and came back to make sure.’ He paused, then asked suddenly, ‘Were the lights on?’

‘No,’ replied the doctor.

Poirot thought for a moment. ‘So we have two murderers. The first did his job, then turned off the light as he left. Later, the second arrived in the dark, did not see that his or her work had been done and struck at a dead body. What do you think?’

‘Very good!’ said the doctor. ‘That would also explain why some wounds are deep but others are so slight. We have a strong murderer and a weaker one.’

‘Yes, but two independent murderers on the same night? It is so unlikely!’ Poirot stopped, then continued, ‘Could the deepest wounds be the work of a woman?’

‘Perhaps - but only if she was very strong.’

Poirot put his hand under the pillow and pulled out the gun that Ratchett had shown him the day before. ‘Why didn’t the American defend himself? The bullets are all there, you see.’ They looked round the room. Ratchett’s clothes were hanging tidily behind the door. On a small table was a bottle of water, an empty glass, some burnt pieces of paper and a used match.

The doctor picked up the empty glass and smelled it. ‘This is why Ratchett failed to defend himself. He was drugged.’

Poirot felt in Ratchett’s pockets and soon brought out a box of matches. He compared the matches carefully with the one on the table. ‘The match on the table is a different shape from these - shorter and flatter. Perhaps it was the murderer’s.’

The detective continued to look round the room. Then, with a cry, he bent down and picked up a handkerchief from the floor. It was small and pretty.

‘The train manager was right!’ he said. ‘There is a woman in this case. And she very conveniently leaves us a clue - exactly as it happens in the books and films. And to make things even easier for us, there is a letter H on it.’

Poirot made another dive to the floor, and this time stood up with a pipe cleaner in his hand. ‘Another convenient clue,’ he smiled. ‘And this time it suggests a man, not a woman.’

The doctor was now looking in the front pocket of Ratchett’s pyjamas. ‘Ah!’ he said. ‘I didn’t notice this earlier.’

He showed Poirot a gold pocket watch. The case was badly damaged, and the hands pointed to a quarter past one.

‘You see?’ cried Constantine. ‘This gives us the hour of the

crime. It fits perfectly with the medical evidence, that he died between midnight and 2 a.m.’

‘It is possible, yes,’ said the detective in a troubled voice.

He went back to the little table and examined the burnt bits of paper. ‘I need a ladies’ hat box!’ he said softly.

Before Dr Constantine was able to ask why, Poirot was in the corridor, calling for the conductor. The conductor soon came in with a hat box borrowed from one of the lady passengers.

‘There are so many clues in this room,’ Poirot explained to the doctor, who was looking very confused. ‘The watch, the pipe cleaner, the handkerchief. But how can we be sure that they are not false clues, left here to confuse us? I am only sure of two clues - the match and the burnt paper. The murderer didn’t want us to read the words on that paper. Let us see.’

From the hat box, Poirot took one of the pieces of shaped wire netting over which a hat would normally sit. He flattened it, then carefully placed the burnt pieces of paper on top and covered them with another piece of wire netting. He lit a match and held the wire over the flame. The doctor watched with interest as, slowly, some words appeared - words of fire. ‘-member little Daisy Armstrong.’

‘Ah!’ cried Poirot. ‘So Ratchett was not the dead man’s real name. We now know his name, and why he left America.’

‘We do?’ asked the doctor.

‘Yes. We must go and tell M. Bouc.’

The two men found M. Bouc finishing lunch in his compartment. ‘After lunch, we will empty the restaurant carriage and use it for your interviews,’ M. Bouc said. ‘I have ordered some food for you here.’

The doctor and the detective ate quickly. M. Bouc waited until their coffee had been served, then asked, ‘Well?’

‘I know the real name of the murdered man,’ said Poirot. ‘He was Cassetti. Do you remember the Armstrong case?’

‘Yes, I think I do,’ answered M. Bouc. ‘A terrible business - although I cannot remember the details.’

‘Colonel Armstrong was an Englishman, married to the daughter of America’s most famous actress, Linda Arden. They were living in America when their three-year-old daughter was kidnapped. After messages from the kidnappers, the parents paid them more than two hundred thousand dollars for her return. But instead, the child’s dead body was discovered. Mrs Armstrong was carrying another baby at the time, and the shock of her daughter’s murder made her give birth too soon. She and the baby both died. The heartbroken husband then shot himself.’

‘Yes, I remember now,’ M. Bouc said softly. ‘And there was another death too, wasn’t there?’

‘A French or Swiss girl who worked for the Armstrongs. The police believed that she had helped the kidnappers, although she strongly denied this. She threw herself out of a window. Later, it was proved that she was completely innocent.’

‘Terrible!’ said the doctor.

‘About six months after these events, the police caught Cassetti. He was the leader of a team of gangsters who had kidnapped and killed people in a similar way before. There was no doubt that he was guilty of the Armstrong kidnap too. But Cassetti was very rich, and he used his money to escape punishment for his crimes. After the court case, he disappeared. And now we know where he went. He changed his name to Ratchett and began travelling abroad.’

‘What an animal!’ cried M. Bouc. ‘He got what he deserved.’

‘I agree,’ said M. Poirot. ‘But was the murderer another gangster, or someone connected to Daisy Armstrong?’

‘Are there any members of the Armstrong family living?’

‘I don’t know,’ replied the detective. ‘I seem to remember that Mrs Armstrong had a younger sister.’

There was a knock at the door. ‘The restaurant carriage is ready for you, Monsieur,’ said the waiter to M. Bouc.

The three men walked down the corridor to begin the interviews.

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