فصل 02

مجموعه: کارآگاه هرکول پوآرو / کتاب: قاتل های الفبا / فصل 2

فصل 02

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A Visit to Andover

We were met at Andover by Inspector Glen, a tall, fair-haired man with a pleasant smile. He gave us the facts about the case.

‘The crime was discovered by Police Constable Dover at 1.00 am on the morning of the 22nd. He noticed that the door of the shop wasn’t locked. He entered, and at first he thought that the place was empty. But when he shone a light over the counter, he saw the body of the old woman.

‘When the police doctor arrived, it was found that the woman had been hit hard on the back of the head. The doctor said that she had probably died about seven to nine hours earlier.

‘But we’ve found a man who went in and bought some tobacco at 5:30,’ said Inspector Glen. ‘And a second man went in and found the shop empty at five minutes past six. So that puts the time of death at between 5.30 and 6.05.

‘We haven’t been able to find anyone yet who saw Ascher, the woman’s husband, near the shop at the time. But he was in a pub at nine o’clock and was very drunk. He’s not a very pleasant kind of man.’

‘He didn’t live with his wife?’ asked Poirot.

‘They separated some years ago. Ascher’s German. He was a waiter at one time, but he started drinking. After that, nobody wanted to employ him. His wife worked as a cook-housekeeper to an old lady. When the woman died, she left Mrs Ascher some money and Mrs Ascher started this tobacco and newspaper business. Ascher used to come round and cause problems for her, so she gave him a small amount of money every week to make him go away.’

‘Had they any children?’ asked Poirot.

‘No. There’s a niece. She’s working as a maid near Overton.’

‘And you say that this man Ascher used to threaten his wife?’

‘That’s right. He was terrible when he was drunk - threatening to kill her.’

‘Was anything missing from the shop? asked Poirot.

‘Nothing. No money was taken. No signs of robber.’

‘You think that this man Ascher came into the shop drunk, started threatening his wife and finally struck her down?’

‘It seems the most likely solution,’ said the Inspector. ‘But I’d like to have another look at that letter you received. I was wondering if Ascher wrote it.’

Poirot handed over the letter and the Inspector read it.

‘I don’t think it’s from Ascher,’ he said at last. ‘I don’t think that he would use the words “our” British police. It’s good quality paper, too. It’s strange that the letter should say the 21st of the month. Of course it might be coincidence.’

‘That is possible - yes,’ said Poirot.

‘But I don’t like this kind of coincidence, Mr Poirot. ABC. Who could ABC be? We’ll see if Mary Drawer - that’s Mrs Ascher’s niece - can give us any help. It’s a strange business.’

A constable came in. ‘Yes, Briggs, what is it?’

‘It’s the man Ascher, sir. We’ve found him.’

‘Right. Bring him in here. Where was he?’

‘Hiding down by the railway.’

Franz Ascher was a very unattractive man. He was crying and threatening us at the same time. He looked at each of our faces in turn.

‘What do you want with me? You should be ashamed to bring me here! You are pigs! How dare you do this?’ His voice changed suddenly. ‘No, no, I do not mean that - you would not hurt a poor old man - not be hard on him. Everyone is hard on poor old Franz. Poor old Franz.’

Mr Ascher started to cry.

‘Stop that, Ascher,’ said the Inspector. ‘Control yourself. You’re not in any trouble yet. If you didn’t kill your wife…’

Ascher interrupted him, his voice almost a scream.

‘I did not kill her! I did not kill her! It is all lies! You are English pigs - all against me. I would never kill her - never.

‘You often threatened to kill her, Ascher.’

‘No. You do not understand. That was just a joke between Alice and me.’

‘A strange kind of joke! Where were you yesterday evening, Ascher?’

‘I did not go near Alice. I was with friends - good friends. We were drinking at the Seven Stars - and then at the Red Dog. di@k Willows - he was with me - and old Curdie - and George - and Piatt. It is the truth that I am telling you!’

‘Take him away,’ Inspector Glen said to Constable Briggs. ‘Hold him on suspicion of murder. I don’t know what to think,’ he said as the unpleasant, shaking old man was taken out. ‘If the letter didn’t exist, I’d say he did it.’

‘What about the men he talked about? asked Poirot.

‘A bad crowd - all ready to tell lies. But it’s important to find out whether anyone saw him near the shop between half past five and six.’

Poirot shook his head thoughtfully.

You are sure nothing was taken from the shop?’ he asked, ‘Perhaps a packet or two of cigarettes. But that not a reason for murder.’

‘And there was nothing - different about the shop? Nothing new there?’

‘There was a railway guide,’ said the Inspector. ‘It was open and turned face down on the counter. It appeared that someone had looked up the trains from Andover. Either the old woman or a customer.

‘Did she sell that type of thing? asked Poirot.

The Inspector shook his head.

‘She sold cheap timetables. This was a big one - the kind of guide that only a big shop would sell’

A light came into Poirot eyes. He bent forward.

‘A railway guide, you say. What kind? Was it an ABC?’

‘Yes,’ said the Inspector. It was an ABC.’

Until that moment, I had not felt very interested in the case. The murder of an old woman in a small back-street shop was a very ordinary type of crime. I had thought that the date of the 21st in the anonymous letter was just a coincidence. Mrs Ascher, I felt sure, had been murdered by her husband.

But now, when I heard about the railway guide, I felt a small shock of excitement. Surely - surely this could not be a second coincidence. The ordinary crime was turning into something very unusual.

We left the police station and went to the building where the body of the dead woman was being kept. A strange feeling came over me as I looked down on that old face and thin grey hair. She looked so peaceful, so distanced from any violent event.

‘She was beautiful when she was young,’ said Poirot.

‘Really?’ I said.

‘But yes, look at the lines of the bones, the shape of the head.’

We went to see the police doctor, Dr Kerr.

‘We haven’t found what killed her,’ he said. ‘It’s impossible to say what it was - perhaps a heavy stick.’

‘Did the murderer have to be very strong?’ asked Poirot.

‘Do you mean, could the killer be a shaky old man of seventy? Oh, yes, it’s possible - if there was enough weight in the head of the stick.’

‘Then the murderer could be a man or a woman?’

The doctor looked surprised.

‘A woman, eh? I hadn’t thought of connecting a woman with this type of crime. But of course it’s possible Poirot nodded in agreement. ‘How was the body lying?’ he asked.

‘In my opinion, Mrs Ascher was standing with her back to the counter. The murderer hit her on the back of the head and she fell down behind the counter. So she couldn’t be seen by anybody entering the shop.’

We thanked Dr Kerr and left.

‘You see, Hastings,’ said Poirot, ‘this shows that Ascher may be innocent. A woman faces a man who is threatening her. But instead, she had her back to the murderer. So clearly she was taking down tobacco or cigarettes for a customer.’

Poirot looked at his watch. ‘Overton is not far away. Shall we drive over there and have an interview with the niece of the dead woman?’

A few minutes later we were driving towards Overton.

Inspector Glen had given us the address of Mrs Ascher’s niece. It was a big house about one and a half kilometres from the village, on the London side. The door was opened by a pretty dark-haired girl. Her eyes were red from crying.

‘I think you are Mrs Mary Drawer, the maid here.’ asked Poirot gently.

‘Yes, sir, that’s right. I’m Mary, sir.’

‘Then perhaps I can talk to you for a few minutes. It’s about your aunt.’

We went inside the house and Mary opened the door of a small living-room. We entered and Poirot sat down on a chair by the window. He looked up into the girl face, studying it closely.

‘You have heard of your aunt’s death, of course?’

The girl nodded, tears filling her eyes again.

‘This morning, sir. The police came here. Oh! it’s terrible! Poor Auntie!’

‘You were fond of your aunt, Mary?’ said Poirot gently.

‘Very, sir. She was always very good to me. I usually visited Auntie on my free day. She had a lot of trouble with her husband.’

“Tell me, Mary, did he threaten her?’

‘Oh yes, sir. He used to say he would cut her throat, and things like that.’

‘So you were not very surprised when you learned what had happened?’

‘Oh, but I was,’ Mary replied. ‘You see, sir, I never thought that he meant it. And Auntie wasn’t afraid of him. He was afraid of her.’

‘Ah,’ said Poirot. ‘So, supposing someone else killed her… Have you any idea who that person could be?’

‘I’ve no idea, sir,’ said Mary in great surprise. ‘It doesn’t seem likely.’

‘There was no one that your aunt was afraid of?’

Mary shook her head. ‘Auntie wasn’t afraid of people.’

‘Did she ever get anonymous letters? Letters that weren’t signed - or were only signed with letters like ABC?’

Mary shook her head in surprise.

Poirot got up. ‘If I want you at any time, Mary, I will write to you here.’

‘Actually, sir, I’m going to leave this job. I don’t like the country. I stayed here to be near my aunt. But now’ - her eyes filled with tears again - ‘there’s no reason for me to stay, so I’ll go back to London.’

‘When you do go to London, will you give me your address?’ Poirot handed her his card. Mary looked at the card in surprise. ‘Then you’re not - a policeman, sir?’

‘I am a private detective.’

She stood there looking at him for some moments in silence. ‘Is there anything - strange happening, sir?’

‘Yes, my child,’ replied Poirot. ‘There is something strange happening. Later you may be able to help me.’

‘I - I’ll do anything, sir. It - it isn’t right, sir, Auntie being killed.’

It was a strange way to describe her aunt’s death, but I felt full of pity. A few moments later we were driving back to Andover.

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