فصل 26

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فصل 26

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CHAPTER TWENTY SIX

Miss Marple leaned forward in her chair. ‘He’s always been bad, completely bad, although he’s also always been attractive. Especially attractive to women. And because of his charm, people have always believed the best about him. He came home in the summer to see his father. I don’t believe for a moment that his father invited him - he probably flew over here and tried to get his father to forgive him, but Mr Fortescue wouldn’t do it. You see, Lance was very much in love with Pat - who is a dear girl - and he wanted a respectable life with her. And that meant having a lot of money.

‘When he was at Yewtree Lodge, he must have heard about these blackbirds. He guessed that MacKenzie’s daughter was in the house and he realized that she would make a very good scapegoat for murder. Because when he couldn’t get his father to do what he wanted, he cold-bloodedly decided that murder it would have to be. Perhaps the coincidence of his father’s first name being Rex, together with hearing about the blackbirds in the pie, suggested the idea of the nursery rhyme. Then he could make a crazy business of the whole thing - and connect it to that old revenge threat of the MacKenzies. Then, you see, he could kill Adele, too, and stop that hundred thousand pounds going out of the firm. But there would have to be a third character, the “maid in the garden hanging up the clothes”. An innocent accomplice whom he could silence before she could talk. And that would give him a real alibi for the first murder.

‘He arrived here just before five o’clock, which was the time Gladys brought the second tray into the hall. He came to the side door and waved to her. It would only have taken him three or four minutes to strangle her and carry her body to where the clothes lines were. Then he rang the front-door bell and joined the family for tea. After tea he went up to see Miss Ramsbottom. When he came down, he went into the drawing room, found Adele alone, drinking a last cup of tea, and sat down by her on the sofa. While he was talking to her, he managed to put the cyanide into her tea without her noticing.’

Inspector Neele said slowly, ‘But I cannot see what he thought he would get from it. Of course, unless old Fortescue died, the business would soon be finished, but is Lance’s share really big enough to make him plan three murders?’

‘That is a little difficult,’ admitted Miss Marple. ‘But is it really true that the Blackbird Mine is worthless?’

Neele thought about it. A gold mine. A worthless gold mine. And where was the mine? West Africa, Lance had said. But Miss Ramsbottom had said it was in East Africa. Lance had just come from East Africa. Maybe he had some recent knowledge?

Suddenly another piece fitted into the Inspector’s puzzle. Sitting in the train, reading The Times. Uranium deposits found in Tanganyika. What if the uranium was in the Blackbird Mine? Lance was there when it was found - and knew the mine was now worth a fortune. An enormous fortune! Neele sighed and looked at Miss Marple. ‘How do you think,’ he asked, ‘that I’m ever going to be able to prove all this?’

Miss Marple nodded at him encouragingly. ‘You’ll prove it,’ she said. ‘You’re a very, very clever man, Inspector Neele. Now you know who it is, you ought to be able to get the evidence. At that holiday camp they’ll recognize Lance’s photograph. He must have gone there when he came over to see his father, looking for an innocent, vulnerable girl who would do anything for him. He’ll find it hard to explain why he stayed there for a week, calling himself Albert Evans.’

‘Yes,’ Inspector Neele thought, ‘I’ll get him!’ Then, suddenly feeling unsure, he looked at Miss Marple. ‘It’s all theory, you know.’

‘Yes - but you are sure, aren’t you?’

‘I suppose so. After all, I’ve known people like him before.’

The old lady nodded. ‘Yes - that’s really why I’m sure.’

‘Because of your knowledge of criminals,’ Neele asked.

‘Oh no - of course not. Because of Pat - a dear girl - and the kind that always marries a bad man - that’s really what made me suspect him at the start.’

‘But there’s a lot that needs explaining,’ said the Inspector. ‘The Ruby MacKenzie business for instance. I could swear that…’

Miss Marple interrupted, ‘Go and talk to Jennifer.’

‘Mrs Fortescue,’ said Inspector Neele, ‘do you mind telling me your name before you were married.’

‘Oh!’ Jennifer exclaimed. ‘It - it was MacKenzie…’

‘You needn’t be nervous, Madam,’ said Inspector Neele gently, and added, ‘I was talking to your mother a few days ago at Pinewood Sanatorium.’

‘She’s very angry with me,’ said Jennifer. ‘Poor Mother, she loved Dad so much. She kept making us promise that we would kill Rex Fortescue one day. Of course, once I’d started my nursing training, I began to realize that her mental balance wasn’t what it should be.’

‘You yourself must have wanted revenge though, Mrs Fortescue?’

‘Well, of course I did. Rex Fortescue practically murdered my father! I’m quite certain that he left Father to die. So I did want to pay him back. When a friend of mine came to nurse his son, Percival, I persuaded her to leave and suggested that I replace her. I don’t know exactly what I meant to do. I had some idea, I think, of nursing his son so badly that he would die. But of course, if you are a nurse, you can’t do that sort of thing. Actually I had great difficulty saving Percival. And then he asked me to marry him and I thought, “Well, that’s a far more sensible revenge than anything else.” I mean, to marry Mr Fortescue’s eldest son and get the money he cheated Father out of that way.’

‘Yes, indeed,’ said Inspector Neele, ‘far more sensible. It was you, I suppose, who put the blackbirds on the desk and in the pie?’ Jennifer looked down. ‘Yes. I suppose it was silly of me really… But I didn’t do anything else.’

‘You don’t - you don’t honestly think I would murder anyone, do you?’

Inspector Neele smiled. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I don’t.’ He added, ‘By the way, have you given Miss Dove any money lately?’

Jennifer looked shocked. ‘How did you know?’

‘We know a lot of things,’ said Inspector Neele and added to himself: And guess a good many, too.

‘She came to me and said that you had accused her of being Ruby MacKenzie. She said if I gave her five hundred pounds, she would let you continue thinking she was Ruby MacKenzie.

I found it very difficult to get the money. I had to sell a very beautiful necklace my husband had given me.’

‘Don’t worry, Mrs Fortescue,’ said Inspector Neele, ‘I think we can get your money back for you.’

Inspector Neele had another interview with Miss Mary Dove. ‘I wonder, Miss Dove,’ he said, ‘if you would give me a cheque for five hundred pounds payable to Mrs Jennifer Fortescue.’ He had the pleasure of seeing Mary Dove’s calmness disappear.

‘The silly fool told you, I suppose,’ she said.

‘Yes. Blackmail. Miss Dove, is rather a serious crime.’

‘I think you’d find it hard to prove that I was guilty of blackmail.’

‘Well, if you’ll give me that cheque, Miss Dove, we’ll leave it like that. Otherwise we have no proof against you at all. It is a strange, though, that in each of the last three places you have worked, there have been robberies about three months after you left. The thieves seemed to have known exactly where fur coats, jewels, etc. were kept. Strange coincidence, isn’t it?’

‘Coincidences do happen, Inspector.’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Neele. ‘But they mustn’t happen too often, Miss Dove. It is possible,’ he added, ‘that we may meet again in the future.’

‘I hope…’ said Mary Dove, ‘I don’t mean to be rude, Inspector Neele - but I hope we don’t.’

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