The ABC Murders
Агата Кристи

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Chapter 7 (#ulink_3527dffe-2e84-572c-b3ae-3866d981a5a7)

Mr Partridge and Mr Riddell (#ulink_3527dffe-2e84-572c-b3ae-3866d981a5a7)

Inspector Glen was looking rather gloomy. He had, I gathered, spent the afternoon trying to get a complete list of persons who had been noticed entering the tobacco shop.

‘And nobody has seen anyone?’ Poirot inquired.

‘Oh, yes, they have. Three tall men with furtive expressions—four short men with black moustaches—two beards—three fat men—all strangers—and all, if I’m to believe witnesses, with sinister expressions! I wonder somebody didn’t see a gang of masked men with revolvers while they were about it!’

Poirot smiled sympathetically.

‘Does anybody claim to have seen the man Ascher?’

‘No, they don’t. And that’s another point in his favour. 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 gravely:

‘I agree with you.’

The inspector said:

‘You know, Monsieur Poirot, it’s a nasty business—a nasty business…I don’t like it…’

We had two more interviews before returning to London.

The first was with Mr James Partridge. Mr Partridge was the last person known to have seen Mrs Ascher alive. He had made a purchase from her at 5.30.

Mr Partridge was a small man, a bank clerk by profession. He wore pince-nez, was very dry and spare-looking and extremely precise in all his utterances. He lived in a small house as neat and trim as himself.

‘Mr—er—Poirot,’ he said, glancing at the card my friend had handed to him. ‘From Inspector Glen? What can I do for you, Mr Poirot?’

‘I understand, Mr Partridge, that you were the last person to see Mrs Ascher alive.’

Mr Partridge placed his finger-tips together and looked at Poirot as though he were a doubtful cheque.

‘That is a very debatable point, Mr Poirot,’ he said. ‘Many people may have made purchases from Mrs Ascher after I did so.’

‘If so, they have not come forward to say so.’

Mr Partridge coughed.

‘Some people, Mr Poirot, have no sense of public duty.’

He looked at us owlishly through his spectacles.

‘Exceedingly true,’ murmured Poirot. ‘You, I understand, went to the police of your own accord?’

‘Certainly I did. As soon as I heard of the shocking occurrence I perceived that my statement might be helpful and came forward accordingly.’

‘A very proper spirit,’ said Poirot solemnly. ‘Perhaps you will be so kind as to repeat your story to me.’

‘By all means. I was returning to this house and at 5.30 precisely—’

‘Pardon, how was it that you knew the time so accurately?’

Mr Partridge looked a little annoyed at being interrupted.

‘The church clock chimed. I looked at my watch and found I was a minute slow. That was just before I entered Mrs Ascher’s shop.’

‘Were you in the habit of making purchases there?’

‘Fairly frequently. It was on my way home. About once or twice a week I was in the habit of purchasing two ounces of John Cotton mild.’

‘Did you know Mrs Ascher at all? Anything of her circumstances or her history?’

‘Nothing whatever. Beyond my purchase and an occasional remark as to the state of the weather, I had never spoken to her.’

‘Did you know she had a drunken husband who was in the habit of threatening her life?’

‘No, I knew nothing whatever about her.’

‘You knew her by sight, however. Did anything about her appearance strike you as unusual yesterday evening? Did she appear flurried or put out in any way?’

Mr Partridge considered.

‘As far as I noticed, she seemed exactly as usual,’ he said.

Poirot rose.

‘Thank you, Mr Partridge, for answering these questions. Have you, by any chance, an A B C in the house? I want to look up my return train to London.’

‘On the shelf just behind you,’ said Mr Partridge.

On the shelf in question were an A B C, a Bradshaw, the Stock Exchange Year Book, Kelly’s Directory, a Who’s Who and a local directory.

Poirot took down the A B C, pretended to look up a train, then thanked Mr Partridge and took his leave.

Our next interview was with Mr Albert Riddell and was of a highly different character. Mr Albert Riddell was a platelayer and our conversation took place to the accompaniment of the clattering of plates and dishes by Mr Riddell’s obviously nervous wife, the growling of Mr Riddell’s dog and the undisguised hostility of Mr Riddell himself.

He was a big clumsy giant of a man with a broad face and small suspicious eyes. He was in the act of eating meat-pie, washed down by exceedingly black tea. He peered at us angrily over the rim of his cup.

‘Told all I’ve got to tell once, haven’t I?’ he growled. ‘What’s it to do with me, anyway? Told it to the blarsted police, I ’ave, and now I’ve got to spit it all out again to a couple of blarsted foreigners.’

Poirot gave a quick, amused glance in my direction and then said:

‘In truth I sympathize with you, but what will you? It is a question of murder, is it not? One has to be very, very careful.’

‘Best tell the gentleman what he wants, Bert,’ said the woman nervously.
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