فصل 23

مجموعه: کارآگاه هرکول پوآرو / کتاب: قاتل راجر آکروید / فصل 23

فصل 23

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Chapter twenty three

The Whole Truth

Poirot made a gesture for me to stay after everyone had left. I was puzzled. There had been a real threat in Poirot’s words - hut I still believed he had the wrong idea.

He moved over to the fireplace. ‘Well, my friend,’ he said quietly, ‘and what do you think of it all?’

‘I don’t know what to think. Why not go straight to Inspector Raglan with the truth instead of giving the guilty person this warning?’

Poirot sat down. ‘Use your little grey cells,’ he said. ‘There is always a reason behind my actions.’

I said slowly, ‘It seems to me that the first reason was to try and force a confession from the murderer?’

‘A clever idea, but not the truth.’

‘My second thought is that, perhaps, by making him believe you knew, you might force him out into the open. He might try to silence you as he formerly silenced Mr Ackroyd.’

‘And use myself to trap him? Mon ami, I am not sufficiently heroic for that.’

‘Then surely you are running the risk of letting the murderer escape by warning him?’

Poirot shook his head. ‘He cannot escape. There is only one way out - and that way does not lead to freedom.’

‘You really believe that one of those people here tonight committed the murder?’ I asked.

‘Yes, my friend. I will explain exactly how I reached my conclusion. Now, there were two facts and a little discrepancy in time which attracted my attention. The first was the telephone call. If Ralph Paton was indeed the murderer, the telephone call became meaningless and silly. Therefore, I said to myself, Ralph Paton is not the murderer. I concluded that the telephone call must have been made by an accomplice of the murderer. I was not quite pleased with that deduction, but I let it stand for the minute.

‘I next examined the motive for the call. That was difficult. I could only get at it by judging its result. Which was - that the murder was discovered that night instead of the following morning. But matters were still not clear. What was the advantage of having the crime discovered that night rather than the following morning? The only idea I had was that the murderer, knowing the crime was to be discovered at a certain time, could make sure of being present when the door was broken in - or immediately afterwards.

‘And now we come to the second fact - the chair pulled out from the wall. Inspector Raglan dismissed that as of no importance. I, on the contrary, have always regarded it as hugely important. The chair, being pulled out as it was, would stand in a direct line between the door and the window.’

‘The window!’ I said quickly.

‘You, too, have my first idea. I imagined that the chair was pulled out to hide something connected to the window. But I abandoned that thought, for the chair hid very little of the window. But just in front of the window there was a table with books and magazines on it. Now that table was completely hidden by the pulled-out chair.’

‘Now, what if there had been something on that table that was not intended to be seen? Something put there by the murderer? I had no idea of what that something might be. But I knew it was something that the murderer had not been able to take away with him. However, it was vital that it should be removed as soon as possible after the crime had been discovered. And so - the telephone message, and the opportunity for the murderer to be there when the body was discovered.’

‘Now, four people were on the scene before the police arrived. Yourself, Parker, Major Blunt, and Mr Raymond. Parker I eliminated at once, since he was the one person certain to be there when the body was discovered. Also, it was he who told me of the pulled-out chair. Raymond and Blunt, however, remained under suspicion. If the crime had been discovered in the early hours of the morning, it was possible that they might have arrived too late to prevent the object on the round table being discovered.’

‘Now what was that object? You heard what I said in this room not half an hour ago? If a Dictaphone was being used by Mr Ackroyd that night, why was no Dictaphone found?’

‘I never thought of that,’ I said.

‘So, if something was taken from the table, why would not that something be the Dictaphone? But a Dictaphone cannot be hidden in a pocket. There must have been something innocent looking which could hold it.

‘You see where I am arriving? A picture of the murderer is taking shape. A person who was on the scene immediately, but who might not have been if the crime had been discovered the following morning. A person carrying a receptacle into which the Dictaphone might be put…’

I interrupted. ‘But why remove the Dictaphone? What was the point?’

‘Like Mr Raymond you think that what was heard at nine-thirty was Mr Ackroyd’s voice speaking into a Dictaphone. But consider this useful invention. You dictate into it, do you not? And at some later time a secretary or a typist turns it on, and the voice speaks again.’

‘You mean…?’ I gasped.

Poirot nodded. ‘Yes. At nine-thirty Mr Ackroyd was already dead. It was the Dictaphone speaking - not the man.’

‘And the murderer switched it on. Then he must have been in the room at that minute?’

‘Possibly. But what if a timing device had been attached to the Dictaphone? In that case we must add two more things to our picture of the murderer. It must be someone who knew Mr Ackroyd had bought the Dictaphone, someone with the necessary mechanical knowledge to attach a timer.’

‘Then we came to the footprints on the windowsill. Here was my conclusion: those prints were made by someone deliberately trying to put suspicion on Ralph Paton. To test this, it was necessary to discover certain facts. One pair of Ralph’s shoes had been taken from the Three Boars by the police. Neither Ralph nor anyone else could have worn them that evening, since they were downstairs being cleaned. According to the police theory, Ralph was wearing another pair of the same kind, and it was true that he had two pairs. Now, for my theory to be proved correct, the murderer had to wear Ralph’s shoes that evening - in which case Ralph must have been wearing a third pair of footwear of some kind. It was unlikely that he would have brought three identical pairs of shoes - and the third pair of footwear was more likely to be boots. I got your sister to make inquiries on this point - emphasizing the color, in order to hide the real reason for my asking.

‘You know the result of her investigations. Ralph Paton had had a pair of boots with him. The first question I asked him when he came to my house yesterday morning was what he was wearing on his feet on the night of the murder. He replied at once that he had worn boots - he was still wearing them, having nothing else to put on.’

‘So the murderer is someone who had the opportunity to take these shoes of Ralph Paton’s from the Three Boars that day. And the murderer must have been a person who had the opportunity to take that dagger from the silver table.’

‘So - a person who was at the Three Boars earlier that day, a person who knew Ackroyd well enough to know that he had bought a Dictaphone, a person who was good at mechanical things, who had the opportunity to take the dagger from the silver table before Miss Flora arrived, who had with him a receptacle suitable for hiding the Dictaphone - such as a large black bag - and who was alone in the study after the crime was discovered while Parker was telephoning for the police. In fact - Dr Sheppard!’

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