فصل 11

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فصل 11

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The American

Fournier was talking to old Georges. The detective looked annoyed.

‘Just like the police,’ the old man complained. ‘Asking the same questions over and over again. I have been telling you the truth. Yes, a woman did come to see Madame the night before she left for England. I did not recognize her. There! I have explained it clearly four or five times.’

‘You cannot remember if she was tall or short, dark or fair, young or old? That is hard to believe.’

‘What do I care? I am ashamed to be mixed up with the police!’

Poirot slipped his arm through Fournier’s. ‘Come, my friend. Let us go and eat.’ He smiled at the old man. ‘The lady was neither tall nor short, fair nor dark, thin nor fat. But this you can tell us: was she a lady of fashion?’

‘A lady of fashion?’ Georges was surprised.

‘I am answered,’ said Poirot. ‘She was. And I have an idea that she would look good in a bathing-costume. Do you not agree? See here.’ He showed the old man a page torn from the Sketch. A small flash of recognition showed in the doorman’s eyes. There was a moment’s pause. ‘Do you not agree?’

‘They look good enough, those two,’ said the old man, handing the page back. ‘To wear nothing at all would be nearly the same thing.’ He laughed as Poirot and Fournier stepped out into the sunlit street.

Over lunch, Poirot took out Giselle’s notebook. Fournier was very excited. He turned the pages, and wrote in his own notebook. Then he looked across at Poirot. ‘Have you read this?’

‘I have only glanced at it. May I?’ Poirot took the book and began to read. He put it down as the cheese plate arrived.

‘There are certain interesting entries,’ began Fournier.

‘Five,’ said Poirot.

‘I agree.’ Fournier read them out from his notebook:

CL 52. English Lady. Husband.

‘RT362. Doctor. Harley Street’

‘Ah! That is where the doctors who look after the rich people in London have their offices, is it not?’ He returned to the list.

‘MR 24. Fake Antiques.

‘XVB 724. English. Stealing from company.’

‘GF 45. Attempted Murder. English.’

‘Excellent, my friend,’ said Poirot. ‘Of all the notes in that book, those five seem to be the only ones connected to the passengers on that aeroplane. Let us think about them one by one.’

‘English Lady. Husband,’ said Fournier. ‘Lady Horbury is a serious gambler. It is likely that she would borrow money from Giselle. The word husband may either mean that Giselle expected the husband to pay his wife’s debts, or that she had a secret of Lady Horbury’s, which she threatened to tell her husband.’

‘I think it is the second one myself,’ said Poirot. ‘And that the woman who visited Giselle the night before the journey was Lady Horbury. The doorman is protecting her. He said he could not remember the visitor, but he reacted, very slightly, when I showed him a picture of her from the Sketch.’

‘She followed Giselle to Paris from Le Pinet. It looks as though she was quite desperate.’

‘I think that may be true.’

‘But it does not fit with your theory, eh?’

‘I have the right clue pointing to the wrong person.’

‘Would you tell me what it is?’ asked Fournier.

‘No, because I may be wrong. And that might confuse you. No, let us each work according to our own ideas. To continue with the little book.’

‘RT362. Doctor. Harley Street,’ read out Fournier.

‘Dr Bryant, perhaps?’

‘MR 24. Fake Antiques might be the Duponts, but I can’t believe it. Monsieur Dupont is a world-famous archaeologist, with a reputation for being honest. Then there is: XVB 724. English. Stealing from company.

‘Who steals from his employer?’ asked Poirot. ‘A lawyer? A bank clerk? A businessman? Mr James Ryder is our only businessman. He may have stolen money from his company, and he may have borrowed from Giselle to stop his theft from being noticed. And the last entry: GF 45. Attempted Murder. English - this gives us a very wide field. Author, dentist, doctor, businessman, steward, hairdresser’s assistant, aristocrat. And so, where next, my friend?’

‘To the Surete. They may have some news for me.’

‘I will come with you. And then I have a little investigation of my own to make. Perhaps, you will help me?’

At the Surete, Poirot saw the Chief of the Detective Force, whom he had met some years ago on a case. Monsieur Gilles was friendly and polite. ‘I am happy to learn that you are investigating this case, Monsieur Poirot. Madame Giselle was very well known in Paris. And the manner of her death - extraordinary! A poisoned dart from a blowpipe in an aeroplane. Is it possible that such a thing could happen?’

‘That is my point exactly!’ cried Poirot. ‘Ah, here is Fournier. With news, I see.’

Fournier was excited. ‘A Greek antique dealer, Zeropoulos, has a shop in the Rue S. Honore. He says he sold a blowpipe and darts, three days before the murder. We must interview him.’

Monsieur Zeropoulos was delighted to see the police. Yes, he had sold a South American blowpipe and darts. ‘I sell a little of everything, Gentlemen! Persia is my speciality. Monsieur Dupont himself comes often to see what new items I have for sale, and to give me his opinion. But as well as my valuable collection, which the experts respect, I also sell cheap foreign rubbish - from the South Seas, India, Japan, Borneo. The blowpipe was in that tray there, with a shell necklace and some green beads. Nobody noticed it until this American comes in and asks me what it is.’

‘An American?’ said Fournier.

‘Exactly. I tell him about the deadly poisons used by certain native tribes. I explain how unusual it is that I have anything like this to sell. I tell him my price and he pays. I give him the blowpipe and the darts and it is finished. But when I read of this incredible murder, I wonder. And so I call the police.’

‘This blowpipe and dart,’ said Fournier, ‘could you identify them? They are in London now, but you will get a chance to look at them.’

‘The blowpipe was this long,’ Monsieur Zeropoulos measured a space on his desk, ‘and this thick, like this pen of mine. It was light in colour. The darts were long and pointed, dark at the tips, tied with red silk.’

‘Red silk?’ asked Poirot.

‘Yes, Monsieur.’

Poirot gave a satisfied smile.

‘Can you describe this American?’ asked Fournier.

Zeropoulos raised his hands. ‘His voice was nasal. He could not speak French. He was chewing gum. He had on glasses with dark frames. He was tall and not very old. He wore a hat. He was not remarkable in any way.’

‘And now, my friend,’ said Poirot, as they left the shop, ‘come with me to the Boulevard des Capucines.’

‘That is…?’

‘The office of Universal Airlines’

‘But we have already talked to them. They could tell us nothing of interest.’

‘Ah, but you did not know what questions to ask.’

In the office of Universal Airlines, Jules Perrot said he was happy to help the police if he could.

‘It is about the murder of Madame Giselle,’ explained Poirot.

‘Ah, yes. I have already answered some questions on the subject.’

‘But it is necessary to have the facts exactly. Now, Madame Giselle booked her seat, when?’

‘By telephone, on the 17th.’

‘For the 12 o’clock service on the following day?’

‘Yes, Monsieur.’

‘But I understand that Madame wished for a seat on the 8.45 a.m. service?’

‘Madame’s maid asked for the 8.45 service, but that service was booked up, so we gave her a seat on the 12 o’clock instead.’

‘I see. But that is strange. Because a friend of mine went to England on the 8.45 flight that morning, and the plane was half empty.’

Fournier looked at Poirot in surprise, but said nothing.

‘Ah, well, sometimes people do not arrive at the last minute, and so there are empty seats… sometimes there are mistakes. The people at Le Bourget are not always accurate…’ A drop of sweat appeared on Perrot’s forehead.

‘Two possible explanations,’ said Poirot, ‘but not true. This is a case of murder, Monsieur Perrot. If you keep back any information, it may be very serious for you.’

Perrot began to shake.

‘Come,’ said Poirot. ‘How much were you paid, and who paid you?’

‘F-five thousand francs. I had no idea… I meant no harm… A man came in. He said he wanted to get a loan from Madame Giselle, but he needed their meeting to be accidental. He said it would give him a better chance. He knew she was flying to England on the following day. He asked me to tell her that the early service was full and book her seat number two in the Prometheus. I saw nothing wrong. Americans do business in unusual ways…’

‘Americans?’ asked Fournier.

‘Yes, he was an American.’

‘Describe him.’

‘Tall, with grey hair and dark-framed glasses.’

‘Did he book a seat himself?’

‘Yes, Monsieur, seat number one. Next to Madame Giselle.’

‘In what name?’

‘Silas Harper.’

‘There was no one of that name travelling, and no one sat in number one.’ Poirot shook his head gently.

‘I saw in the paper that there was no one of that name, and so I thought there was no need to mention the matter. Since this man did not go by the plane…’

Fournier looked at Perrot coldly. ‘You have hidden important facts from the police. This is a very serious matter.’

On the pavement outside the office, Fournier removed his hat and bowed. ‘Congratulations, Monsieur Poirot. What gave you this idea?’

‘On our flight over from England this morning, I heard a man saying that he had crossed on the morning of the murder in a nearly empty plane. And then Elise said that she rang up the office of Universal Airlines and that there was no room on the early morning flight. Those two statements did not match. The steward on the Prometheus had seen Madame Giselle before on the early service, so it was clearly her habit to go by the 8.45 a.m. plane. But somebody wanted her to go on the 12 o’clock. Why did the office tell Elise that the early flight was full? A mistake, or a deliberate lie? I thought it was a lie, and I was right.’

‘Every minute this case gets more puzzling. First we seem to be looking for a woman. Now it is an American man.’

Poirot nodded gently. ‘It is easy to be an American, here in Paris! The nasal voice, the chewing gum, the glasses, they all belong to the stage American…’

He took from his pocket the page he had torn from the Sketch, and stared at it.

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