‘You shut your blarsted mouth,’ roared the giant.
‘You did not, I think, go to the police of your own accord.’ Poirot slipped the remark in neatly.
‘Why the hell should I? It were no business of mine.’
‘A matter of opinion,’ said Poirot indifferently. ‘There has been a murder—the police want to know who has been in the shop—I myself think it would have—what shall I say?—looked more natural if you had come forward.’
‘I’ve got my work to do. Don’t say I shouldn’t have come forward in my own time—’
‘But as it was, the police were given your name as that of a person seen to go into Mrs Ascher’s and they had to come to you. Were they satisfied with your account?’
‘Why shouldn’t they be?’ demanded Bert truculently.
Poirot merely shrugged his shoulders.
‘What are you getting at, mister? Nobody’s got anything against me? Everyone knows who did the old girl in, that b—of a husband of hers.’
‘But he was not in the street that evening and you were.’
‘Trying to fasten it on me, are you? Well, you won’t succeed. What reason had I got to do a thing like that? Think I wanted to pinch a tin of her bloody tobacco? Think I’m a bloody homicidal maniac as they call it? Think I—?’
He rose threateningly from his seat. His wife bleated out:
‘Bert, Bert—don’t say such things. Bert—they’ll think—’
‘Calm yourself, monsieur,’ said Poirot. ‘I demand only your account of your visit. That you refuse it seems to me—what shall we say—a little odd?’
‘Who said I refused anything?’ Mr Riddell sank back again into his seat. ‘I don’t mind.’
‘It was six o’clock when you entered the shop?’
‘That’s right—a minute or two after, as a matter of fact. Wanted a packet of Gold Flake. I pushed open the door—’
‘It was closed, then?’
‘That’s right. I thought shop was shut, maybe. But it wasn’t. I went in, there wasn’t anyone about. I hammered on the counter and waited a bit. Nobody came, so I went out again. That’s all, and you can put it in your pipe and smoke it.’
‘You didn’t see the body fallen down behind the counter?’
‘No, no more would you have done—unless you was looking for it, maybe.’
‘Was there a railway guide lying about?’
‘Yes, there was—face downwards. It crossed my mind like that the old woman might have had to go off sudden by train and forgot to lock shop up.’
‘Perhaps you picked up the railway guide or moved it along the counter?’
‘Didn’t touch the b—thing. I did just what I said.’
‘And you did not see anyone leaving the shop before you yourself got there?’
‘Didn’t see any such thing. What I say is, why pitch on me—?’
‘Nobody is pitching upon you—yet. Bonsoir, monsieur.’
He left the man with his mouth open and I followed him.
In the street he consulted his watch.
‘With great haste, my friend, we might manage to catch the 7.2. Let us despatch ourselves quickly.’
Chapter 8 (#ulink_5fcfbd9f-9a2c-5848-ba69-a6b3d6ed6a5f)
The Second Letter (#ulink_5fcfbd9f-9a2c-5848-ba69-a6b3d6ed6a5f)
‘Well?’ I demanded eagerly.
We were seated in a first-class carriage which we had to ourselves. The train, an express, had just drawn out of Andover.
‘The crime,’ said Poirot, ‘was committed by a man of medium height with red hair and a cast in the left eye. He limps slightly on the right foot and has a mole just below the shoulder-blade.’
‘Poirot?’ I cried.
For the moment I was completely taken in. Then the twinkle in my friend’s eye undeceived me.
‘Poirot!’ I said again, this time in reproach.
‘Mon ami, what will you? You fix upon me a look of doglike devotion and demand of me a pronouncement à la Sherlock Holmes! Now for the truth—I do not know what the murderer looks like, nor where he lives, nor how to set hands upon him.’
‘If only he had left some clue,’ I murmured.
‘Yes, the clue—it is always the clue that attracts you. Alas that he did not smoke the cigarette and leave the ash, and then step in it with a shoe that has nails of a curious pattern. No—he is not so obliging. But at least, my friend, you have the railway guide. The A B C, that is a clue for you!’
‘Do you think he left it by mistake then?’
‘Of course not. He left it on purpose. The fingerprints tell us that.’
‘But there weren’t any on it.’
‘That is what I mean. What was yesterday evening? A warm June night. Does a man stroll about on such an evening in gloves? Such a man would certainly have attracted attention. Therefore since there are no fingerprints on the A B C, it must have been carefully wiped. An innocent man would have left prints—a guilty man would not. So our murderer left it there for a purpose—but for all that it is none the less a clue. That A B C was bought by someone—it was carried by someone—there is a possibility there.’
‘You think we may learn something that way?’
‘Frankly, Hastings, I am not particularly hopeful. This man, this unknown X, obviously prides himself on his abilities. He is not likely to blaze a trail that can be followed straight away.’
‘So that really the ABC isn’t helpful at all.’