The Abc Murders - Agatha Christie

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CHAPTER ONE

The Letter
My name is Captain Arthur Hastings. My wife and I have a large farm in South America, but before I was married I lived in London. There I helped my friend, the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, solve many crimes.
Poirot used to work with the police in Belgium, but he retired several years ago. Since retiring, though, he has become a very successful private detective. When the British police have a difficult crime which they cannot solve, they often ask Poirot to help them.
In June 1935 I came back to Britain for six months on business while my wife stayed in South America to manage the farm. I didn't know that, during that time, I was going to work with my old friend Poirot again.
Most of this story is my own personal experience. Sometimes, though, I have included information about events when I was not present myself. But I believe I have described the thoughts and feelings of the other people in the story correctly. Poirot has seen my work, and agrees that I have.
In my opinion, Poirot used his skills in a most clever and unusual way to solve a number of crimes which were different from any others that he had worked on. I shall call these crimes the ABC Murders.
***
After arriving in England, I went almost immediately to visit Poirot. He had moved to a new flat in London and was very pleased to see me.
'You're looking wonderful, Poirot,' I said. 'You haven't changed at all. In fact, if it were possible, I would say that you have fewer grey hairs than the last time I saw you.'
Poirot smiled. 'And why is that not possible? It is quite true.'
'Do you mean your hair is turning from grey to black instead of from black to grey?' I said in surprise. That's very strange. It seems against nature.'
'As usual, Hastings,' said Poirot, 'you have a beautiful and unsuspicious mind. You have not changed over the years. You notice a strange fact and explain it in the same breath without noticing that you are doing so!'
Poirot walked into his bedroom and returned with a bottle in his hand. I looked at it, then I understood. It was a bottle of black hair colouring.
'Poirot!' I cried. 'You've coloured your hair!'
'Oh, you begin to understand!' said Poirot.
'I suppose next time I come home, I shall find you wearing a false moustache — or are you wearing one now?'
Poirot looked shocked. He has a large black moustache which he is very proud of. 'No, no, mon ami. A false moustache! How horrible!' He pulled his moustache to prove to me that it was real. 'I have never seen a moustache like mine in the whole of London.'
That was a very good thing, I thought privately. But I didn't want to hurt Poirot's feelings, so instead I changed the subject.
'Are you still working?' I asked. 'I know you actually retired years ago.'
'Yes, it is true,' replied Poirot. 'I tried to grow vegetables instead. But immediately, a murder happened — and I had to forget about the vegetables. And since then, whenever I say that a case will be my last, it is not. Each time I say: this is the end. But then something else happens. But I must say, my friend, that I do not like retirement at all. If I do not use my brain, it will stop working.'
'I see,' I said. 'So you still use your brain sometimes.'
'Exactly. But I choose my cases very carefully. You know, Hastings, in many ways I think you bring me luck.'
'Really?' I said. 'In what ways?'
As soon as I heard you were coming, I said to myself: something will happen. Hastings and I will hunt criminals again together, just like the old days. But if so, it must not be ordinary business. It must be something' — he waved his hands excitedly — 'something very fine and special.'
'Well,' I said at last, smiling, 'has this excellent crime happened yet?'
'Pas encore! At least -' Poirot paused, and a look of worry came over his face. His voice sounded so strange that I looked at him in surprise.
Suddenly he crossed the room to a desk near the window. There were papers arranged carefully inside. He took one out, then passed it to me.
'Tell me, mon ami.' he said. 'What do you think of this?'
I took it from him with interest. It was a letter which had been typed on thick white notepaper:
Mr Hercule Poirot, You think you are very clever at solving mysteries that are too difficult for our poor, stupid British police. Let us see, Mr Clever Poirot, just how clever you can be. Perhaps you'll find this problem too difficult. Watch out for Andover, on the 21st of the month.
Yours, ABC
I looked at the envelope. The address was typed, too.
'The postmark is London WC1,' said Poirot. 'Well, what is your opinion?'
I handed the letter back to him.
'It's from a madman, I suppose,' said.
'That is all you can say?'
'Well — doesn't it sound like a madman to you?'
'Yes, my friend, it does.'
His voice was serious. I looked at him in surprise. 'You're worried, Poirot.'
'A madman, mon ami is a serious matter. A madman is a very dangerous thing.'
«Yes, of course, that's true… I hadn't thought about that. But it sounds more like a rather stupid kind of joke. Perhaps the sender was drunk.'
'You may be right, Hastings.
'What have you done about it?' I asked.
'What can one do? I showed the letter to our good friend, Chief Inspector Japp. He thought the same as you — that it was a stupid joke. They get letters like these every day at Scotland Yard. I, too, have received them before, but there is something about that letter, Hastings, that I do not like...'
Poirot shook his head. Then he picked up the letter and put it in the desk.
'If you really think it's serious, can't you do something?' I asked.
'As always, you are a man who wants action! But what can we do? The police have seen the letter but they, too, will do nothing. There are no fingerprints on it. There are no clues to the possible writer'
»In fact, there is only your own feeling?'
«Not feeling, Hastings. Feeling is a bad word. It is my knowledge — my experience — that tells me something about that letter is wrong.'
He waved his hands about, then shook his head again.
'Well,' I said, 'the 21st is Friday. If a big robbery happens near Andover then -'
'Ah, what a good thing that would be!'
'A good thing?' I stared in surprise. The word seemed to be a very strange one to use. 'A robbery may be exciting, but surely it can't be a good thing!'
Poirot shook his head. 'You don't understand, my friend. It would be a good thing because it would clear my mind of the fear of something else.'
'Of what?'
'Murder,' said Hercule Poirot
***
Mr Alexander Bonaparte Cust got up from his chair and looked near-sightedly round his bedroom. The furniture was old and the bedroom was not very clean. His back hurt from sitting in the same position far too long. As stretched himself to his full height, you could see that he was quite a tall man, but he did not look tall because he stooped.
He went to a coat that was hanging on the back of the door, and took from the pocket a packet of cheap cigarettes and some matches. He lit a cigarette and then returned to the table. He picked up a railway guide and searched for some information inside it. Then he looked at a typewritten list of names. With a pen, he made a mark against one of the first names on the list.
It was Thursday, 30 June.
***
I had forgotten about the anonymous letter which Poirot had received, and the importance of the 21st. On the 22nd, Poirot received a visit from Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard. We had known the Inspector for many years, and he welcomed me warmly.
'What a surprise!' he cried. 'It's just like the old days, seeing you with Monsieur Poirot again. You're looking well, too. Your hair is just getting a little thin. Well, that's what happens to all of us.'
I always brushed my hair carefully across the top of my head, so I wasn't very pleased that Inspector Japp had noticed my thinning hair. But I decided not to get upset.
'Yes, we're all getting older,' I agreed.
'Except for Monsieur Poirot,' said Japp, smiling at my friend. 'His hair and moustache look wonderful. And since he retired, he's become very famous. Train mysteries, air mysteries, high society deaths — oh, he's here, there and everywhere. Have you heard about his anonymous letter?'
'I showed it to Hastings the other day,' said Poirot.
'Of course,' I said. 'I'd completely forgotten about it. What was the date in the letter?'
'Yesterday,' said Japp. 'That's why I've come here. I rang the police in Andover to see it anything had happened. But the letter is certainly a joke. A shop window was broken by children throwing stones, and a few people got drunk, but that's all.'
'I am very glad about that,' said Poirot.
'We get lots of letters like that every day, said Japp, 'from people who have nothing better to do. They don't mean any harm. They're just looking for a bit of excitement.'
'I have been foolish to think that the matter was so serious,' Poirot agreed.
'Well, I must go,' said Japp, laughing. 'I just wanted to stop you worrying.'
After the Inspector had left, Poirot said, 'He does not change much, the good Japp, eh?'
'He looks much older,' I said. And his hair is going grey,' I added nastily.
'You know, Hastings, I have a very clever hairdresser,' said Poirot. 'He could put some false hair onto your head and brush your own hair over it -'
'Poirot!' I shouted. 'I'm not interested in your hairdresser. What's the matter with the top of my head?'
'Nothing — nothing at all,' said Poirot quickly.
'Well,' I said, feeling a little calmer. 'I'm sorry that that anonymous letter didn't lead to an interesting crime.'
'Yes, I was wrong about that,' said Poirot. 'I am too suspicious.'
The telephone rang and Poirot got up to answer it. 'Allo' he said. 'Yes, it is Hercule Poirot speaking.'
He listened for a minute or two and then I saw his face change.
'Mais oui… Yes, we will come… Naturally… It may be as you say… Yes, I will bring it. A tout a l'heure then.'
He put down the phone and came across the room to me.
'That was Japp speaking, Hastings. He had just got back to Scotland Yard. There was a message from Andover...'
'Andover?' I cried excitedly.
Poirot said slowly, 'An old woman has been found murdered. She had a tie tobacco and newspaper shop. Her name is Ascher.'
I think I felt a little disappointed. I had expected something very unusual. The murder of a shopkeeper didn't sound very interesting.
Poirot continued in the same serious voice, 'The Andover police believe they know who did it. It seems that the woman husband gets drunk and behaves badly. He has said several times that he would kill her. But the police would like to have another look at the anonymous letter I received. So I have said that you and I will go down to Andover at once.'
I felt a little more excited. Perhaps the murder of the old woman wasn't very interesting, but it was still a crime. It had been a long time since I had mixed with crime and criminals.
I wasn't really listening to Poirot's next words. But later I remembered them very clearly.
'This is the beginning,' said Hercule Poirot.
CHAPTER TWO
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. Dick 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.
CHAPTER THREE
Questions and Answers
The murder had taken place on a street which was a turning off the main street. Mrs Ascher's shop was about half-way down it on the right-hand side. A large crowd of people was standing outside the shop. A young constable was trying to make the crowd move away.
Poirot stopped at a little distance from them. From there we could see the sign over the shop door. Poirot repeated it softly.
'A. Ascher. Come, let us go inside, Hastings.'
We made our way through the crowd Poirot showed the young constable a letter from Inspector Glen, explaining who we were. He nodded, and unlocked the door to let us pass inside.
The shop was very dark. The constable found and switched on the electric light. There were a few cheap magazines lying about, and newspapers from the day before — all dusty. Behind the counter there were shelves reaching to the tailing, packed with tobacco and packets of cigarettes. There were also jars of sweets. It was an ordinary little shop, like thousands of others.
'She was down behind the counter,' the constable explained in a slow voice. 'The doctor says she never knew what hit her. She was probably reaching up to one of the shelves.'
'There was nothing in her hand?' asked Poirot.
'No, sir, but there was a packet of cigarettes down beside her.'
Poirot nodded. His eyes moved round the small shop, noting everything.
'And the railway guide was — where?'
'Here, sir.' The constable pointed out the place on the counter. 'It was open at the right page for Andover and lying face down.'
'Were there any fingerprints?' I asked.
'There were none on the railway guide, sir. There were lots on the counter itself.'
'Were there any of Ascher's among them?' asked Poirot.
'Too soon to say, sir.'
Poirot nodded again, then asked if the dead woman lived over the shop, 'Yes, sir, you go through that door at the back, sir.'
Poirot passed through the door and I followed him. Behind the shop there was a small room which was both a kitchen and living-room. It was tidy and clean but without much furniture. There were a few photographs on a shelf over the fire. One was of Mary Drawer, Mrs Ascher's niece. Another was of a young couple in old-fashioned clothes. The girl looked beautiful and the young man was handsome.
'Probably a wedding picture,' said Poirot.
I looked closely at the couple in the photograph. It was almost impossible to recognise the well-dressed young man as Ascher.
Upstairs there were two more small rooms. One had been the dead woman's bedroom. There were a couple of old blankets on the bed; a small pile of underwear in one drawer and cookery books in another; a magazine; a pair of shiny new stockings, and a few clothes hanging up.
'Come, Hastings,' said Poirot quietly. 'There is nothing for us here.'
When we were out in the street again, Poirot crossed the road. Almost exactly opposite Mrs Ascher's shop, there was a shop selling fruit and vegetables. In a quiet voice, Poirot told me what I had to do. Then he entered the shop. After waiting a minute or two, I followed him in. He was buying some green beans. I chose some apples.
Poirot talked excitedly to the fat lady who was serving him.
'It was just opposite you, was it not, that the murder happened? Perhaps you even saw the murderer go into the shop — a tall, fair man with a beard, was he not? A Russian, I have heard.'
'What's that?' The woman looked up in surprise. 'A Russian did it?
'Mais, oui. I thought perhaps you noticed him last night?'
'Well, I don't get much chance to look,' said the woman. 'The evening's our busy time and there are always a lot of people passing after they finish work. A tall fair man with a beard — no, I can't say I saw him.'
I interrupted the conversation as Poirot had told me to.
'Excuse me, sir,' I said to Poirot. 'I think you have the wrong information. A short dark man, I was told.
A discussion started between the fat woman, her husband and a young assistant. They had seen four short dark men, and the assistant had seen a tall fair one.
Poirot and I left the shop with our beans and apples.
'And why did you do that, Poirot?' I asked.
'I wanted to find out if it was possible for a stranger to enter Mrs Ascher's shop without being noticed.'
'Couldn't you simply ask those people if they saw anyone?'
'No, mon ami. If I asked those people for information, they would not tell me anything. But when I made a statement, they started to talk. We now know that this time is a «busy time» — there are a lot of people on the streets. Our murderer chose his time well, Hastings.'
We gave our beans and apples to a very surprised small boy in the street. Then Poirot paused and looked at the houses on each de of Mrs Ascher's house. One was a house with curtains that had been white but were now grey. Poirot knocked at the door. It was opened by a very dirty child.
'Good evening' said Poirot. 'Is your mother in?'
The child stared at us for a long time. Then he shouted up the stairs.
'Mum, you're wanted.'
A sharp-faced woman came down the stairs.
'You're wasting your time here -' she began, but Poirot interrupted her.
'Good evening, madam,' he said. I am a newspaper reporter, working for the Evening Star. I would like to offer you five pounds for some information about your neighbour, Mrs Ascher.'
As soon as Poirot talked about money, the woman became more pleasant.
'I'm sorry I spoke so crossly just now,' she said, 'but a lot of men come along and try to sell me things — cleaning products, stockings, bags and other silly things. They all seem to know my name, too — Mrs Fowler.'
'Well, Mrs Fowler,' said Poirot, 'you only have to give me some information. Then I'll write a report of the interview.'
Mrs Fowler began to talk about Mrs Ascher. She had had a lot of trouble with Franz Ascher. Everyone knew that. But she hadn't been afraid of him.
Had Mrs Ascher ever received any strange letters, Poirot asked — letters without a signature? Mrs Fowler didn't think so. Had Mrs Fowler seen a railway guide — an ABC — in Mrs Ascher's home? Mrs Fowler replied that she hadn't. Had anyone seen Ascher go into the shop the evening before? Again, Mrs Fowler said no.
Poirot paid her the five pounds and we went out into the street again.
'That was rather an expensive interview, Poirot,' I said. 'Do you think she knows more than she told us?'
'My friend, we are in the strange position of not knowing what questions to ask,' replied Poirot. 'Mrs Fowler has told us all that she thinks she knows. In the future, that information may be useful for us.'
I didn't understand what Poirot meant, but at that moment we met Inspector Glen. He was looking rather unhappy. He had spent the afternoon trying to get a list of people who had been seen entering the tobacco shop.
'And nobody has seen anyone?' asked Poirot.
'Oh, yes, they have. Three tall men, four short men with black moustaches, two beards, three fat men — all strangers, and all looking like criminals!'
Poirot smiled.
'Does anyone say that they have seen the man Ascher?'
'No, they don't. And that's another reason why he might be innocent. I've just told the Chief Constable that I think this is a job for Scotland Yard. I don't believe it's a local crime.'
Poirot said seriously, 'I agree with you.'
The Inspector said, 'You know, Monsieur Poirot, it's a nasty business — I don't like it...'
We had two more interviews before returning to London.
The first was with Mr James Partridge, who had bought something from Mrs Ascher at 5.30.
Mr Partridge was a tidy little man. He worked in a bank and wore glasses on the end of his nose. He was very exact in everything he said.
'Mr — er — Poirot,' he said, looking at the card my friend had handed to him. 'From Inspector Glen? What can I do for you, Mr Poirot?'
'I understand that you were the last person to see Mrs Ascher alive?'
Mr Partridge placed the ends of his fingers together and stared at Poirot.
'That is not certain, Mr Poirot,' he said. 'It's possible that there were other customers after me.'
'If there were, they have not reported it' said Poirot. 'But you, I understand, went to the police without waiting to be asked?'
'Certainly I did. As soon as I heard about the shocking event, I realised that my statement might be helpful.'
'You have an excellent sense of duty,' said Poirot. 'Perhaps you could kindly repeat your story to me.'
'Certainly. I was returning to this house and at 5.30 exactly I entered Mrs Ascher's shop. I often bought things there. It was on my way home.'
'Did you know that Mrs Ascher had a drunken husband who was in the habit of threatening her life?'
'No. I knew nothing about her.'
'Did you think there was anything unusual about her appearance yesterday evening? Did she seem different from usual?'
Mr Partridge thought for a time.
'She seemed exactly as usual,' he said at last.
Poirot got up.
'Thank you, Mr Partridge, for answering these questions. Have you an ABC in the house? I want to look up my return train to London.'
'On the shelf behind you,' said Mr Partridge.
Poirot took down the ABC and pretended to look up a train. Then he thanked Mr Partridge and we left.
Our next interview was with Mr Albert Riddell. Mr Riddell was an enormous man with a large face and small suspicious eyes.
He looked at us angrily.
'I've told everything once already,' he said. 'I've told the police, and now I've got to tell it again to two foreigners.'
Poirot gave me a quick, amused look, and then said, 'I am sorry, but it is a case of murder. One has to be very, very careful. You did not, I think, go to the police?'
'Why should I? It wasn't my business. I've got my work to do.'
'People saw you going into the shop and gave your name to the police. But the police had to come to you first. Were they happy with your information?'
'Why shouldn't they be?' said Mr Riddell angrily. 'Everyone knows who killed the old woman — that husband of hers.'
'But he was not in the street that evening and you were.'
'You're trying to say that I did it, are you? Well, you won't succeed. What reason did I have to do a thing like that?'
He got up from his chair in a threatening way.
'Calm yourself, monsieur,' said Poirot. 'I only want you to tell me about your visit. It was six o'clock when you entered the shop?'
'That's right — a minute or two after six. I wanted a packet of tobacco. I pushed open the door and went in. There wasn't anyone there. I waited, but nobody came so I went out again.'
'You didn't see the body behind the counter?'
'No.'
'Was there a railway guide lying about?'
'Yes, there was — face down. I thought perhaps the old woman had to go somewhere by train and forgot to lock the shop.'
'Perhaps you picked up the railway guide and moved it along the counter?'
'I didn't touch it. I did just what I said,' said Mr Riddell angrily.
'And you did not see anyone leaving the shop before you got there?'
'No. Why are you trying to fix this murder on me?'
Poirot got up.
'Nobody is fixing anything on you — yet. Bon soir, monsieur.'
Poirot went out into the street and I followed him. He looked at his watch.
'If we are quick, my friend, we might catch the 7.02 train to London.'
CHAPTER FOUR
The Second Letter
'Am I a magician? What do you want me to do? The police are doing everything they can. They will discover anything that can be discovered.'
In the days that followed, I found that Poirot was strangely unwilling to talk about the case. In my own mind, I was afraid that I knew the reason why.
Poirot hadn't been able to solve the murder of Mrs Ascher. My friend was used to success and he found failure very difficult — so difficult that he didn't even want to talk about it.
The crime received very little attention in the newspapers. There was nothing exciting or unusual about the murder of an old woman. The newspapers soon found more exciting subjects to write about.
I was beginning to forget about the matter when something new happened. I hadn't seen Poirot for a couple of days as I had been away for the weekend. I arrived back on the Monday afternoon and the letter came by the six o'clock post. Poirot opened the envelope and breathed in deeply.
'It has come,' he said.
'What has come?'
'The second part of the ABC business. Read it,' said Poirot, and passed me the letter.
As before, it was typed on good quality paper.
Dear Mr Poirot, Well, I won the first part of the game, I think. The Andover business went very well, didn't it?
But the fun's only just beginning. Watch what happens at Bexhill-on-Sea on the 25th of the month. What a great time we are having!
Yours, ABC
***
'Does this mean this man is going to try and murder someone else?' I said.
'Naturally, Hastings. Did you think that the Andover business was going to be the only case? Do you not remember me saying, «This is the beginning»?'
'But this is horrible! We're facing a mad killer.'
The next morning there was a meeting of some powerful police officials. There was the Chief Constable of Sussex, Inspector Glen from Andover, Superintendent Carter of the Sussex police, Inspector Japp, a younger inspector called Crome, and also Dr Thomson, the famous specialist in illnesses of the mind. Everyone was sure that the two letters were written by the same person.
'We've now got definite warning of a second crime which is going to take place on the 25th — the day after tomorrow — in Bexhill. What can we do to stop it?' said the Sussex Chief Constable. He looked at his superintendent.
The Superintendent shook his head. 'It… difficult, sir. There's not the smallest clue about who the victim will be. What can we do?'
'I have a suggestion,' said Poirot. 'I think it is possible that the surname of the intended victim will begin with the letter B. When I got the letter naming Bexhill I thought it was possible that the victim as well as the place might be chosen in alphabetical order.
'It's possible,' said the doctor. 'On the other hand, it may be that the name Ascher was a coincidence. Remember that we are facing a madman. He hasn't given us any clue about his motive.'
'Does a madman have motives, sir?' asked the Superintendent.
'Of course he does,' said the doctor.
'I'll keep a special watch on anyone connected with the Andover business,' said Inspector Glen. Partridge and Riddell and, of course, Ascher himself. If they show any sign of leaving Andover, they'll be followed.'
Later, Poirot and I walked along by the river.
'Poirot,' I said. 'Surely this crime can be stopped?'
Poirot turned to me with a worried face. 'Madness, Hastings, is a terrible thing… I am afraid… I am very much afraid...'
I still remember waking up on the morning of 25 July. It was about seven-thirty. Poirot was standing by my bedside, gently shaking me by the shoulder. I looked at his face and was awake at once.
«What is it?' I asked, sitting up quickly.
'It has happened,' Poirot said.
'What?' I cried. 'You mean — but today is the 25th.'
'It took place last night — I mean, in the early hours of this morning.
I jumped out of bed and got dressed quickly. Poirot had just had a telephone call from Bexhill-on-Sea. He told me what had happened.
'The body of a young girl has been found on the beach at Bexhill,' he said. 'She is Elizabeth Barnard, a waitress in one of the cafes. According to the medical examination, the time of death was between 11.30 p.m. and 1 a.m. An ABC open at the trains to Bexhill was found under the body.'
Twenty minutes later we were in a fast car crossing the Thames on our way out of London. Inspector Crome was with us. He was officially in charge of the case. Crome was a very different type of officer from Japp. He was much younger, and seemed to think that he was a better detective than Poirot.
If you want to ask me anything about the case, please do he said.
'You have not, I suppose, a description of the dead girl asked Poirot.
'She was twenty-three years old and was working as a waitress at the Orange Cat cafe -'
'Pas ca. I wondered — if she was pretty?'
'I have no information about that,' said Inspector Crome rather coldly.
A look of amusement came into Poirot's eyes.
'It does not seem to you important? But for a woman, it is very important!'
There was a short silence. Then Poirot opened the conversation again.
'Were you informed how the girl was murdered?'
'She was strangled with her own belt,' replied Inspector Crome.
Poirot's eyes opened very wide.
'Ah!' he said. At last we have a piece of information that is very definite. That tells one something, does it not?'
At Bexhill we were greeted by Superintendent Carter. With him was a pleasant-faced, intelligent-looking young inspector called Kelsey.
'We've told the girl's mother and father about her death,' said the Superintendent. 'It was a terrible shock to them, of course. There's also a sister — a typist in London. We've communicated with her. And there's a young man — in fact, the girl was supposed to be out with him last night.'
'Any help from the ABC guide?' asked Crome.
'It's there.' The Superintendent nodded towards the table. 'No fingerprints. It's open at the page for Bexhill. It's a new book, I think — it hasn't been opened much. It wasn't bought anywhere round here.'
'Who discovered the body, sir?'
'A retired army officer who was walking his dog at about 6 a.m.'
'Well, sir, I'd better start the interviews, said Crome. 'There's the cafe and the girl's home. I'd better go to both of them. Kelsey can come with me.'
'And Mr Poirot?' asked the Superintendent.
'I will go with you,' said Poirot to Crome.
Crome, I thought, looked a little annoyed.
We went to the Orange Cat, a small tearoom by the sea. It served coffee, tea and a few lunch dishes. Coffee was just being served. The manageress took us into a very untidy back room.
'Miss — eh — Merrion?' asked Crome.
'That is my name' said the manageress in a high voice. 'This is a very upsetting business. Most upsetting.'
'What can you tell me about the dead girl, Miss Merrion?' asked Kelsey. 'Had she worked here for a long time?'
'This was the second summer. She was a good waitress.'
'She was pretty, yes?' asked Poirot.
'She was a nice, clean-looking girl,' replied Miss Merrion.
'What time did she finish work last night?' Poirot continued.
'Eight o'clock. We close at eight.'
'Did she tell you how she was going to spend the evening?'
'Certainly not,' said Miss Merrion. She looked shocked.
'How many waitresses do you employ?'
'Two normally, and an extra two from 20 July until the end of August. Miss Barnard was one of the regular waitresses.'
'What about the other one?'
'Miss Higley? She's a very nice young lady.'
'Perhaps we had better ask her some questions.'
'I'll send her to you,' said Miss Merrion. 'Please be as quick as possible. This is the busiest time for morning coffees.'
Miss Merrion left the room. A few minutes later a rather fat girl with dark hair and a pink face came in.
'Miss Higley, asked the Inspector, 'you knew Elizabeth Barnard?'
'Oh, yes, I knew Betty. Isn't it awful? Betty! Betty Barnard, murdered!'
'You knew the dead girl well?' asked Crome.
'Well, she's worked here longer than I have. I only came this March. She was here last year. She was rather quiet. She didn't joke or laugh a lot.'
We learned that Betty Barnard had had a good looking, well-dressed 'friend' who worked in an office near the station. Miss Higley didn't know his name, but she had seen him and she thought Miss Barnard had planned to meet him the night before. We talked to the other two girls in the cafe, but no one had noticed her in Bexhill during the evening.
CHAPTER FIVE
A Broken Family
Elizabeth Barnard's parents lived in a small newly built house on the edge of the town. Mr Barnard was waiting in the doorway for us.
Inspector Kelsey introduced himself, then he introduced us.
'This is Inspector Crome of Scotland Yard, sir,' he said.
'Scotland Yard?' said Mr Barnard hopefully. 'That's good. This murderer has got to be caught. My poor little girl -'
'And this is Mr Hercule Poirot, also from London, and er -'
'Captain Hastings,' said Poirot.
We went into the living-room. Mrs Barnard was there. Her eyes were red, and she was clearly suffering from shock.
'It's too cruel. Oh, it is too cruel,' she said in a tearful voice.
'It's very painful for you, madam, I know,' said Inspector Crome. 'But we want to know all the facts so we can get to work as quickly as possible. Your daughter was twenty-three, I understand. She lived here with you and worked at the Orange Cat cafe, is that right?'
'That's it,' said Mr Barnard.
'This is a new house, isn't it? Where did you live before?'
'I worked in London. I retired two years ago. We always wanted to live near the sea.'
'You have two daughters?'
'Yes. My older daughter works in an office in London.'
'Weren't you worried when your daughter didn't come home last night?'
'We didn't know she hadn't,' said Mrs Barnard in a tearful voice. 'Dad and I always go to bed at nine o'clock. We never knew Betty hadn't come home until the police officer came and said — and said -' She started to cry.
'We heard that your daughter was going to be married?
'Yes. His name is Donald Fraser and I like him,' said Mrs Barnard. 'I like him very much. This news will be terrible for him.'
'Did he meet your daughter most evenings after her work?'
'Not every evening. Once or twice a week.'
'Do you know if she was going to meet him yesterday?'
'She didn't say. Betty never said much about where she was going or what she was doing. But she was a good girl, Betty was.'
'We've got to find out what happened,' said Mr Barnard. 'Betty was just a happy girl with a nice boyfriend. Why should anyone want to murder her? It doesn't make sense.'
'You're right, Mr Barnard,' said Crome. 'I tell you what I'd like to do — have a look at Miss Barnarnd's room. There may be letters — or a diary,
'Certainly,' said Mr Barnard. He got up and led the way upstairs. Crome followed him, then Poirot, then Kelsey. I was at the back.
I paused for a minute on the stairs. As I did so, a taxi stopped outside and a girl jumped out. She paid the driver and hurried up the path, carrying a small suitcase. As she entered, she saw me and stopped.
'Who are you?' she said.
I came down a few steps. I felt embarrassed about how exactly to reply. Should I give my name? Or say that I had come here with the police?
'Oh, well,' said the girl. 'I can guess.'
She pulled off her hat and threw it on the ground. I could see her better now as she turned a little so the light fell on her. Her hair was black and cut in a modern fashion, and her body was thin. She was not good-looking, but there was something about her that made you notice her.
'You are Miss Barnard?' I asked.
'I am Megan Barnard. You belong to the police, I suppose?'
'Well,' I said. 'Not exactly -'
She interrupted me.
'I don't think I've got anything to say to you. My sister was a nice girl with no men friends. Good morning.'
'I'm not a reporter, if that's what you think,' I said.
'Well, what are you? Where are mum and dad?'
'Your father is showing the police your sister's bedroom. Your mother's in there. She's very upset.'
The girl seemed to make a decision. 'Come in here,' she said. She pulled open a door and passed through. I followed her and found myself in a small, tidy kitchen. I was going to shut the door — but then Poirot came quietly into the room and closed the door behind him.
'Mademoiselle Barnard?' he said.
'This is Monsieur Hercule Poirot,' I said.
Megan Barnard looked at him quickly.
'I've heard of you,' she said. 'You're the private detective, aren't you?' She sat down on the edge of the kitchen table. 'I don't see what Monsieur Hercule Poirot is doing in our little crime.'
'Mademoiselle,' said Poirot. 'I heard what you said just now to my friend Hastings. „A nice girl with no men friends.“ When a young girl is dead, that is the kind of thing that is said. But I should like to find someone who knew Elizabeth Barnard and who does not know she is dead! Then, perhaps, I should hear what is useful to me — the truth!'
Megan Barnard looked at him for a few minutes in silence. When at last she spoke, her words made me jump.
'Betty,' she said, 'was a stupid little fool! I was very fond of her, but I could see that she was very foolish. I even told her that sometimes.'
'Please tell me exactly what you mean,' said Poirot. 'I will help you. I heard what you said to Hastings. That your sister was a bright happy girl with no men friends. It was the opposite that was true, was it not?'
Megan said slowly, 'Betty was a good girl. I want you to understand that. But she liked being taken out, and dancing and all that kind of thing.'
'And she was pretty, yes?'
This was the third time that I had heard Poirot ask this question.
Megan got down from the table and opened her suitcase. She took out a photo and handed it to Poirot. It showed the head and shoulders of a fair-haired girl. She was not beautiful, but she had a cheap kind of prettiness.
Poirot handed it back, saying, 'You and she do not look like each other, mademoiselle.'
'Oh, I'm the plain one of the family. I've always known that.'
'In what way do you think your sister was behaving foolishly?' asked Poirot. 'Do you mean, perhaps, in her relationship with Mr Donald Fraser?'
'That's it, exactly. Don's a very quiet sort of person — but he — well, naturally he wouldn't be happy about certain things — and then -'
'And then what, mademoiselle?' Poirot gave her a long, hard look.
'I was afraid that he might — end the relationship with her. And that would be a pity. He would be a good husband.'
Poirot continued to stare at her. She looked back at him.
'So,' Poirot said at last, 'we do not speak the truth now.'
'Well,' said Megan, turning to the door, 'I've done what I can to help.'
'Wait, mademoiselle. I have something to tell you. Come back.'
To my surprise, Poirot told Megan Barnard the whole story of the ABC letters, the murder in Andover and the railway guide found by the bodies.
Megan listened to every word very carefully.
'You really mean that my sister was killed by a madman?' she asked.
'Exactly. You see, mademoiselle, you can give me the information I ask for freely, without wondering whether or not it will hurt anyone.'
'Yes, I see that now.'
'Then let us continue our conversation. I have formed the idea that this Donald Fraser has, perhaps, a violent and jealous temper. Is that right?'
Megan Barnard said quietly, 'I'm going to give you the whole truth now, Monsieur Poirot. Don is, as I say, a very quiet person. He keeps all his emotions inside himself. He can't always say what he feels in words. He was always jealous about Betty.
'He loved her very much — and she was fond of him, but she liked other men, too. And of course, working in the Orange Cat, she was always meeting men. And then perhaps she'd go with them to the cinema. Nothing serious, but she just liked to have fun.'
'I understand,' said Poirot. 'Continue.'
'Don couldn't understand why she wanted to go out with other people. And once or twice they had terrible arguments. When quiet people lose their tempers, they get really angry. Don was so violent that Betty was frightened.
'There was one argument just over a month ago. I was at home for the weekend, and I told Betty she was being a little fool. She'd told Don she was going to Hastings to see a girlfriend — and he found out that she'd really been in Eastbourne with a married man. There was a terrible scene. Don was white and shaking and saying that one day — one day -'
'Yes?'
'He'd murder her,' said Megan in a low voice.
She stopped and stared at Poirot. He nodded his head several times.
'And so, naturally you were afraid...'
'I didn't think he'd actually done it!' said Megan. 'But I was afraid that the police would find out what he said — several people knew about it.'
'Exactly. Do you know, mademoiselle, if your sister met this married man, or any other man, recently.
'I don't know, said. Megan, shaking her head. 'But it wouldn't surprise me if Betty had — well, told Don a few lies again.'
An electric bell rang sharply. Megan went to the window and looked out.
'It's Don,' she said.
Bring him in here,' said Poirot quickly. 'I would like to have a word with him before the Inspector does.'
Megan Barnard went quickly out of the kitchen. A couple of seconds later, she came back leading Donald Fraser by the hand.
I felt sorry for the young man. His white face showed how great a shock he had had. He was a fine-looking young man with a pleasant face and red hair.
'What's this, Megan?' he said. 'Tell me, please — I've only just heard — Betty...' His voice grew quieter.
Poirot pushed forward a chair and he sank down on it. Poirot gave him a drink. He sat up straighter and turned to Megan.
'It's true, I suppose?' he said quietly. 'Betty is — dead — killed?'
'It's true, Don. I've just come down from London. Dad phoned me. The police are upstairs now. Looking through Betty's things, I suppose.'
Poirot moved forward a little and asked a question.
'Did Miss Barnard tell you where she was going last night?'
'She told me she was going with a girlfriend to St Leonards replied Fraser.
'Did you believe her?' asked Poirot.
'What do you mean?' Suddenly Fraser's face looked angry.
'Betty Barnard was killed by a madman,' said Poirot. 'You can only help us to catch him by speaking the exact truth.'
Donald Fraser turned to Megan. Then he looked suspiciously at Poirot.
'Who are you? You don't belong to the police?'
'I am better than the police,' said Poirot simply.
'Well,' Donald Fraser said at last, 'I — I began to wonder. I was ashamed of myself for being so suspicious. But — but I was suspicious… I went to St Leonards. I got there by eight o'clock. Then I watched the buses — to see she was in them… But there was no sign of her.
'I was sure she was with a man. I went to Hastings. I looked in hotels and restaurants and cinemas. It was very foolish. So in the end I came back. It was about midnight when I got home.'
The kitchen door opened.
'Oh, there you are,' said Inspector Kelsey.
Inspector Crome pushed past him. He looked quickly at the two strangers.
'Miss Megan Barnard and Mr Donald Fraser,' said Poirot, introducing them, 'This is Inspector Crome from London.' Turning to the Inspector, he said, 'While you were upstairs, I was talking to Miss Barnard and Mr Fraser to see if they could tell me anything which would help us.'
'Oh yes?' said Inspector Crome, not really listening to Poirot.
Poirot went out into the hall and I followed him.
'Have you had any new ideas about the crimes?' I asked him.
'Only that the murderer is a surprisingly kind sort of person,' said Poirot.
I had no idea what Poirot meant. But I did not say anything.
CHAPTER SIX
The Third Letter
After the Bexhill murder, we had many more meetings with the police. There was a lot of discussion about whether the general public should be told about the anonymous letters.
'If we don't give this madman the satisfaction of telling everyone about him, what's he likely to do?' asked Inspector Crome.
'He'll murder someone else,' said Dr Thomson at once.
'And if we put everything in the newspapers, then what will he do?'
'Same answer. The result's the same. Another crime.'
'But it seems to me,' said Poirot, 'that there is one very important clue — the discovery of the motive. He chooses his victims alphabetically — not because he hates them personally. But why is he murdering these people?
'He is a very kind murderer. The police didn't arrest Franz Ascher for the murder of his wife and Donald Fraser for the murder of Betty Barnard because ABC wrote those warning letters.'
I remember well the arrival of ABC's third letter.
It was a Friday. The evening post came at about ten o'clock. When we heard the postman's step, I went along to the letter-box. There were four or five letters, I remember. The last one was addressed in printed letters.
I opened it quickly and took out the printed piece of paper inside.
Poor Mr Poirot, — You aren't as good at these little criminal matters as you thought, are you? Let us see if you can do any better this time. This time it's easy. Churston on the 30th. Do try and do something about it. It's a bit boring for me when everything goes so easily, you know!
Good hunting. Ever yours, ABC
'Churston,' I said, jumping to get our own ABC. 'Lets see where it is.'
'Hastings,' said Poirot, 'when was that letter written? Is there a date on it?'
'It was written on the 27th,' I said, looking at the letter in my hand.
'Did I hear you right, Hastings? Did he give the date of the murder as the 30th? Bon Dieu, Hastings — do you not realise? Today is the 30th.'
Poirot picked up the envelope from the floor. There was something unusual about the address, but I had been too worried to look at it closely.
Poirot was at that time living in Whitehaven Apartments. The address on the envelope said, Hercule Poirot, Whitehorse Apartments. Someone had written across the envelope, 'Not known at Whitehorse Apartments, ECI, — try Whitehaven Apartments.'
So the letter had been sent to the wrong address three days before.
'Quickly!' said Poirot. 'We must get in touch with Scotland Yard.'
He telephoned Crome and told him about the letter. Crome then put down the phone to book a ticket to Churston.
'It is too late,' said Poirot. He looked at the clock. 'It's twenty past ten. There is only another hour and forty minutes.'
I opened the railway guide I had taken down from the shelf.
'Churston, Devon,' I read, '327.6 kilometres from Paddington. Population 656. It's a small place. Surely our man would be noticed there.'
'But another person will be dead,' said Poirot. 'What time are the trains? I imagine that a train will be quicker than a car.'
'There's a midnight train from Paddington — it gets to Churston at 7.15.'
'We will take that, Hastings.'
I put a few things into a suitcase while Poirot again rang up Scotland Yard. A few minutes later, he came into the bedroom and explained that we had to take the letter and envelope to Paddington with us. Someone from Scotland Yard would meet us there.
When we arrived on the platform, we saw Inspector Crome.
'We don't have any news yet,' he said. 'All persons whose names begin with C are being warned by phone if possible. Where's the letter?'
Poirot gave it to him and he examined it.
'You don't think,' I suggested, 'that he put the wrong address on purpose?'
'No,' said Crome, shaking his head. 'The man's got his rules — crazy rules — and he keeps to them. He gives us warning.'
The Inspector, we found, was travelling by the same train. Just as the train was leaving the station, we saw a man running down the platform. He reached the Inspector's window and called up something. Poirot and I hurried down the train.
'You have news — yes?' asked Poirot.
Crome said quietly, 'It's very bad. Sir Carmichael Clarke has been found murdered.'
Sir Carmichael Clarke was quite famous. He had been a throat specialist but had retired. He was rich and owned one of the best-known collections of Chinese art. He was married but had no children, and lived in a house he had built for himself near the Devon coast.
'Eh bien,' said Poirot. 'The whole country will look for ABC.'
'Unfortunately,' I said, 'that's what he wants.'
'True. But he may become careless...'
'How strange all this is, Poirot,' I said. 'Do you know, this is the first crime of this kind that you and I have worked on together? All our murders have been — well, private murders. This murder is worse because it's mad'.
'No, Hastings. It is not worse. It is only more difficult. It should be easier to discover because it is mad. This alphabetical business… If I could understand the idea — then everything would be clear and simple. These crimes must not continue.
Soon, soon, I must see the truth… Go, Hastings. Get some sleep. There will be a lot to do tomorrow.'
Churston is near the town of Torquay. Until about ten years ago there was only countryside around it, but recently small houses and new roads had appeared. Sir Carmichael Clarke had bought land with an open view of the sea and built a house. It was modern, and not large, but quite attractive.
A local police officer, Inspector Wells, met us at the station and told us what had happened. Sir Carmichael Clarke, it seemed, had been in the habit of taking a walk after dinner every evening. But at some time after eleven, he had still not returned. It was not long before his body was discovered. He had been hit on the back of the head with something heavy. An open ABC bad been placed face down on the dead body.
We arrived at Combeside, Sir Carmichael's house, at about eight o'clock. The door was opened by a manservant. His hands were shaking and he looked very upset.
'Good morning, Deveril,' said the police officer. 'These are the gentleman from London.'
'This way, gentlemen,' said Deveril. He showed us into a long dining-room where breakfast was laid. 'I'll get Mr Franklin.'
A minute later, a big, fair-haired man with a sunburnt face entered the room. This was Franklin Clarke, the dead man's only brother. Inspector Wells introduced us to him. Franklin Clarke shook hands with each of us in turn.
'Let me offer you some breakfast,' he said. 'We can talk as we eat.'
We ate the excellent breakfast and drank coffee.
'Inspector Wells told me everything last night,' said Franklin Clarke. 'Is it really right, Inspector Crome, that my poor brothel is the victim of a mad killer, that this is the third murder, and that, in each case, an ABC railway guide has been left beside the body?'
'That's right, Mr Clarke.'
'But why? What possible advantage can there be for the murderer?'
'It won't help us if we look for motives now, Mr Clarke.' said Inspector Crome. 'We need a few facts. Your brother was the same as usual yesterday? He received no unexpected letter — nothing to upset him?'
'No, he was quite as usual.'
'Not upset or worried in any way?'
'Excuse me, Inspector, I didn't say that. It was normal for my poor brother to be upset and worried. You may not know that his wife, Lady Clarke, is in very bad health. She is suffering from a terrible illness and will not live for long. My brother is very worried about her. I returned from the East not long ago and I was shocked at the change in him.
'Imagine, Mr Clarke, that you found your brother shot — with a gun beside him. What would you think?' asked Poirot.
'I would think that he killed himself,' said Clarke.
'But he didn't kill himself,' said Crome. 'Now I believe, Mr Clarke, that it was your brother's habit to go for a walk every evening?'
'Quite right. He always did.'
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