The ABC Murders
Агата Кристи

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I failed to see why the idea was so extremely amusing, and in any case I thought the joke was in poor taste. Poirot, poor old chap, is getting on. Jokes about his approaching demise can hardly be agreeable to him.

Perhaps my manner showed my feelings, for Japp changed the subject.

‘Have you heard about Monsieur Poirot’s anonymous letter?’

‘I showed it to Hastings the other day,’ said my friend.

‘Of course,’ I exclaimed. ‘It had quite slipped my memory. Let me see, what was the date mentioned?’

‘The 21st,’ said Japp. ‘That’s what I dropped in about. Yesterday was the 21st and just out of curiosity I rang up Andover last night. It was a hoax all right. Nothing doing. One broken shop window—kid throwing stones—and a couple of drunk and disorderlies. So just for once our Belgian friend was barking up the wrong tree.’

‘I am relieved, I must confess,’ acknowledged Poirot.

‘You’d quite got the wind up about it, hadn’t you?’ said Japp affectionately. ‘Bless you, we get dozens of letters like that coming in every day! People with nothing better to do and a bit weak in the top storey sit down and write ’em. They don’t mean any harm! Just a kind of excitement.’

‘I have indeed been foolish to take the matter so seriously,’ said Poirot. ‘It is the nest of the horse that I put my nose into there.’

‘You’re mixing up mares and wasps,’ said Japp.

‘Pardon?’

‘Just a couple of proverbs. Well, I must be off. Got a little business in the next street to see to—receiving stolen jewellery. I thought I’d just drop in on my way and put your mind at rest. Pity to let those grey cells function unnecessarily.’

With which words and a hearty laugh, Japp departed.

‘He does not change much, the good Japp, eh?’ asked Poirot.

‘He looks much older,’ I said. ‘Getting as grey as a badger,’ I added vindictively.

Poirot coughed and said:

‘You know, Hastings, there is a little device—my hairdresser is a man of great ingenuity—one attaches it to the scalp and brushes one’s own hair over it—it is not a wig, you comprehend—but—’

‘Poirot,’ I roared. ‘Once and for all I will have nothing to do with the beastly inventions of your confounded hairdresser. What’s the matter with the top of my head?’

‘Nothing—nothing at all.’

‘It’s not as though I were going bald.’

‘Of course not! Of course not!’

‘The hot summers out there naturally cause the hair to fall out a bit. I shall take back a really good hair tonic.’

‘Précisément.’

‘And, anyway, what business is it of Japp’s? He always was an offensive kind of devil. And no sense of humour. The kind of man who laughs when a chair is pulled away just as a man is about to sit down.’

‘A great many people would laugh at that.’

‘It’s utterly senseless.’

‘From the point of view of the man about to sit, certainly it is.’

‘Well,’ I said, slightly recovering my temper. (I admit that I am touchy about the thinness of my hair.) ‘I’m sorry that anonymous letter business came to nothing.’

‘I have indeed been in the wrong over that. About that letter, there was, I thought, the odour of the fish. Instead a mere stupidity. Alas, I grow old and suspicious like the blind watch-dog who growls when there is nothing there.’

‘If I’m going to co-operate with you, we must look about for some other “creamy” crime,’ I said with a laugh.

‘You remember your remark of the other day? If you could order a crime as one orders a dinner, what would you choose?’

I fell in with his humour.

‘Let me see now. Let’s review the menu. Robbery? Forgery? No, I think not. Rather too vegetarian. It must be murder—red-blooded murder—with trimmings, of course.’

‘Naturally. The hors d’oeuvres.’

‘Who shall the victim be—man or woman? Man, I think. Some big-wig. American millionaire. Prime Minister. Newspaper proprietor. Scene of the crime—well, what’s wrong with the good old library? Nothing like it for atmosphere. As for the weapon—well, it might be a curiously twisted dagger—or some blunt instrument—a carved stone idol—’

Poirot sighed.

‘Or, of course,’ I said, ‘there’s poison—but that’s always so technical. Or a revolver shot echoing in the night. Then there must be a beautiful girl or two—’

‘With auburn hair,’ murmured my friend.

‘Your same old joke. One of the beautiful girls, of course, must be unjustly suspected—and there’s some misunderstanding between her and the young man. And then, of course, there must be some other suspects—an older woman—dark, dangerous type—and some friend or rival of the dead man’s—and a quiet secretary—dark horse—and a hearty man with a bluff manner—and a couple of discharged servants or gamekeepers or somethings—and a damn fool of a detective rather like Japp—and well—that’s about all.’

‘That is your idea of the cream, eh?’

‘I gather you don’t agree.’

Poirot looked at me sadly.

‘You have made there a very pretty résumé of nearly all the detective stories that have ever been written.’

‘Well,’ I said. ‘What would you order?’

Poirot closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. His voice came purringly from between his lips.

‘A very simple crime. A crime with no complications. A crime of quiet domestic life…very unimpassioned—very intime.’

‘How can a crime be intime?’

‘Supposing,’ murmured Poirot, ‘that four people sit down to play bridge and one, the odd man out, sits in a chair by the fire. At the end of the evening the man by the fire is found dead. One of the four, while he is dummy, has gone over and killed him, and intent on the play of the hand, the other three have not noticed. Ah, there would be a crime for you! Which of the four was it?’

‘Well,’ I said. ‘I can’t see any excitement in that!’

Poirot threw me a glance of reproof.
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