Sunday, October 21, 2007

Entry: Mystery!

Hercule Poirot’s Little Grey Cells
by Amy Barkman

“Use your little grey cells, Watson.” Poirot looked at me with that enigmatic stare that always makes me uncomfortable. “And use your eyes too.”

I looked at the scene before us. The woman was clearly dead. A knife protruded from the side of her neck. Other than that, she lay peacefully in her bed dressed in a lacy negligee.

A pocket calendar with today’s date circled in black ink lay on the bedside table. Inside the circle a single name, Montgomery, was written. Beside that were an empty teacup and saucer. On a table under the window, two trays were placed, each with a teapot, one with a cup and saucer. On the dresser was a pot of ivy.

Lord Dillingham was in the chair beside the window with his face in his hands, weeping loudly. A few years ago I would have believed his behavior unmanly. But the thought of something happening to my wife, Cinderella…well, it put a whole new face on that sort of thing.

Poirot was questioning the husband. “And where were you last night, Monsieur?” There was a gentle tone in his voice that was not there when he spoke to me.

The man looked up at him with red rimmed eyes. “I was at my club. If only I hadn’t gone!” He shook his head. “I came in around two a.m. and went to my own room, not wanting to disturb Celia because she had been under the weather.”

“And who can witness these times for you?”

The man straightened suddenly.“Oh, of course. Let me see. I had dinner at seven with that Irish fellow, Craig. Then we went to the smoking room for a while before he left.
Lord Byrom and I discussed the political situation at length over brandy from around nine until I left shortly before two. The taxi takes about fifteen minutes. And of course the staff at the club can vouch for all that.”

“And when you arrived home?”

“Childers had locked up but I roused him when I couldn’t find my key. He let me in and when I asked how her Ladyship was, he said she’d sent for her chamomile tea around eight and he’d not talked to her since.”

“Do you recognize the knife?”

“Yes. It’s one of a collection housed in a cabinet on the wall of the library downstairs.”

Poirot spoke briefly with Childers. He said her Ladyship appeared to be stronger than she’d been for days. The butler professed great shock at the stabbing and death. “No one sought entrance and there is no sign of a break-in. I’ve checked all windows and doors.”

He and the rest of the staff played Mah Jong from shortly after eight until eleven when they all retired. The servant’s wing was locked and Childers had the only key. Whenever the bell in his room sounded, he answered or dispatched another servant at his discretion.

He discovered the body when he brought the morning tea to her Ladyship and immediately awakened his Lordship who sent him to telephone Poirot and Scotland Yard.

The only other person in the house last night was Colon Baker, Lady Dillingham’s son by a previous marriage. Baker was notorious around London, his name frequently in the Times for getting in one scrap after another. Poirot asked that the young man be informed to join us in the library.

Colon Baker looked young, around twenty, and his face was quite pale, whether with shock or fear I couldn’t discern. After making sympathetic noises and getting the man seated, Poirot began questioning him.

“When was the last time you saw your mother?”

He scratched his head. “You know, one doesn’t expect to be asked these things so one doesn’t make notes of times. The mater had been sick for the last week, some sort of flu I expect, nothing serious.” Then he caught himself and shrugged. “We thought it wasn’t serious but it must have been since she’s dead, what?”

“Has no one told you the cause of your mother’s death?”

“No, Childers just came and woke me up and said that the mater had passed out during the night.” He chuckled. “At first I thought he meant she’d had too much to drink. Which would have been truly astonishing since she never allowed liquor of any kind to touch her lips.” He smiled up at us with what appeared to be an attempt to charm.

Poirot did not smile back at him, nor did I. He repeated his question. “When was the last time you saw your mother?”

“Oh, blast. Let’s see, today is Wednesday.” He paused and closed his eyes as though studying a calendar tucked away in his mind. “Perhaps Sunday afternoon?”

“And what did you discuss at that time?”

A red flush spread up Colon Baker’s neck to his face. “Oh, the usual mother-son kinds of things. You know.”

“No, I do not know.” Poirot’s tone of voice was not gentle with this one as it had been with his stepfather.

“Oh, blast it! She was berating me about money. I’d gone through my allowance again and had some notes out so I went to ask her for more. She has complete control of my father’s estate. And she does whatever he tells her to do.” His voice was filled with bitterness.

“You mean your stepfather?”

“Yes.” Colon’s eyes were narrowed and his mouth sullen.

“And was she going to give you the money?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I thought she was. She fussed at me for being a spendthrift, especially for gambling, but she always came through. And this time, I thought from what she said, she was going to cough up the money and maybe even the control.”

“What did she say to make you think that?”

He gave a little grimace. “She said that responsibility was either going to make or break me and my future.”

To my surprise, Poirot stood up and walked over to young Baker and patted him on the shoulder. “I’m sorry you’ve lost your mother. I hope things look up for you in the future.”

Superintendent Battle walked in as Colon Baker was leaving so I didn’t get to question Poirot about his change of attitude toward the boy.

“Glad to see you on the job.” Battle greeted Poirot with his usual polite solemnity. He nodded to me. “And you too, Mr. Hastings.” Then he turned back to Poirot. “What brought you here?”

“Lord Dillingham phoned my flat about an hour ago and we came immediately.”

“And have you discovered the murderer?” A slight smile hovered around Battle’s lips as he surveyed his colleague in detection.

Poirot nodded. “Yes.”

I waited for the denouncement of Colon Baker, although I couldn’t understand how he could prove it and was puzzled by his last words to the young man.

“She, of course, was not stabbed to death.”

“Of course.” Battle nodded in agreement.

I said nothing but Poirot turned to me. “There was no blood. It was obvious that the knife was thrust in hours after the real death.”

I nodded in agreement, as if I had recognized this fact from the beginning.

Poirot turned back to the Scotland Yard Superintendent. “I expect you will find traces of the poison in the pot of ivy. He would have emptied the pot when Childers was phoning. There will probably be some of this morning’s tea missing from the second pot where he rinsed the first one out with it.”

“His Lordship?” Battle was a man of few words.

Poirot nodded. “The motive was money of course. I think you will find the trust fund left by the late Mr. Baker greatly depleted. Today her Ladyship was going to discuss turning the fund over to her son with a barrister, Mr. Montgomery, and it would have come out. You’ll find the proof.”

“How did you deduce all this?”

“The boy was an obvious dupe, bad reputation, supposed anger and frustration motive. His Lordship wanted us to find the poison and think the boy did that and also the later stabbing intended to point to His Lordship having committed the crime. He thought the boy is stupid…as well as the police. But you will track down the taxi driver who brought his Lordship from near his club shortly after eight last night when he poisoned the tea.” Poirot pulled out his handkerchief and bent to buff away a smear on his patent leather shoe. “He should not have involved Hercule Poirot.”

Later, of course, it all turned out to be just as Poirot had said.

I told him that I was impressed at his quick understanding of the solution.

“The Bon Dieu does not gift all men alike, mon ami,” Hercule Poirot said with a slight lowering of his head that I assume he thought was a gesture of humility.
Submitted by
Amy Barkman

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