Murder in the mews, p.1
Murder in the Mews, p.1Part #18 of Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christie
Four Cases of Hercule Poirot
To My Old Friend
Murder in the Mews
The Incredible Theft
Dead Man’s Mirror
Triangle at Rhodes
About the Authors
MURDER IN THE MEWS
“Penny for the guy, sir?”
A small boy with a grimy face grinned ingratiatingly.
“Certainly not!” said Chief Inspector Japp. “And, look here, my lad—”
A short homily followed. The dismayed urchin beat a precipitate retreat, remarking briefly and succinctly to his youthful friends:
“Blimey, if it ain’t a cop all togged up!”
The band took to its heels, chanting the incantation:
The fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
The chief inspector’s companion, a small, elderly man with an egg-shaped head and large, military-looking moustaches, was smiling to himself.
“Très bien, Japp,” he observed. “You preach the sermon very well! I congratulate you!”
“Rank excuse for begging, that’s what Guy Fawkes’ Day is!” said Japp.
“An interesting survival,” mused Hercule Poirot. “The fireworks go up—crack—crack—long after the man they commemorate and his deed are forgotten.”
The Scotland Yard man agreed.
“Don’t suppose many of those kids really know who Guy Fawkes was.”
“And soon, doubtless, there will be confusion of thought. Is it in honour or in execration that on the fifth of November the feu d’artifice are sent up? To blow up an English Parliament, was it a sin or a noble deed?”
“Some people would say undoubtedly the latter.”
Turning off the main road, the two men passed into the comparative quiet of a mews. They had been dining together and were now taking a short cut to Hercule Poirot’s flat.
As they walked along the sound of squibs was still heard periodically. An occasional shower of golden rain illuminated the sky.
“Good night for a murder,” remarked Japp with professional interest. “Nobody would hear a shot, for instance, on a night like this.”
“It has always seemed odd to me that more criminals do not take advantage of the fact,” said Hercule Poirot.
“Do you know, Poirot, I almost wish sometimes that you would commit a murder.”
“Yes, I’d like to see just how you’d set about it.”
“My dear Japp, if I committed a murder you would not have the least chance of seeing—how I set about it! You would not even be aware, probably, that a murder had been committed.”
Japp laughed good-humouredly and affectionately.
“Cocky little devil, aren’t you?” he said indulgently.
At half past eleven the following morning, Hercule Poirot’s telephone rang.
“ ’Allo? ’Allo?”
“Hallo, that you, Poirot?”
“Oui, c’est moi.”
“Japp speaking here. Remember we came home last night through Bardsley Gardens Mews?”
“And that we talked about how easy it would be to shoot a person with all those squibs and crackers and the rest of it going off?”
“Well, there was a suicide in that mews. No. 14. A young widow—Mrs. Allen. I’m going round there now. Like to come?”
“Excuse me, but does someone of your eminence, my dear friend, usually get sent to a case of suicide?”
“Sharp fellow. No—he doesn’t. As a matter of fact our doctor seems to think there’s something funny about this. Will you come? I kind of feel you ought to be in on it.”
“Certainly I will come. No. 14, you say?”
Poirot arrived at No. 14 Bardsley Gardens Mews almost at the same moment as a car drew up containing Japp and three other men.
No. 14 was clearly marked out as the centre of interest. A big circle of people, chauffeurs, their wives, errand boys, loafers, well-dressed passersby and innumerable children were drawn up all staring at No. 14 with open mouths and a fascinated stare.
A police constable in uniform stood on the step and did his best to keep back the curious. Alert-looking young men with cameras were busy and surged forward as Japp alighted.
“Nothing for you now,” said Japp, brushing them aside. He nodded to Poirot. “So here you are. Let’s get inside.”
They passed in quickly, the door shut behind them and they found themselves squeezed together at the foot of a ladderlike flight of stairs.
A man came to the top of the staircase, recognized Japp and said:
“Up here, sir.”
Japp and Poirot mounted the stairs.
The man at the stairhead opened a door on the left and they found themselves in a small bedroom.
“Thought you’d like me to run over the chief points, sir.”
“Quite right, Jameson,” said Japp. “What about it?”
Divisional Inspector Jameson took up the tale.
“Deceased’s a Mrs. Allen, sir. Lived here with a friend—a Miss Plenderleith. Miss Plenderleith was away staying in the country and returned this morning. She let herself in with her key, was surprised to find no one about. A woman usually comes in at nine o’clock to do for them. She went upstairs first into her own room (that’s this room) then across the landing to her friend’s room. Door was locked on the inside. She rattled the handle, knocked and called, but couldn’t get any answer. In the end getting alarmed she rang up the police station. That was at ten forty-five. We came along at once and forced the door open. Mrs. Allen was lying in a heap on the ground shot through the head. There was an automatic in her hand—a Webley .25—and it looked a clear case of suicide.”
“Where is Miss Plenderleith now?”
“She’s downstairs in the sitting room, sir. A very cool, efficient young lady, I should say. Got a head on her.”
“I’ll talk to her presently. I’d better see Brett now.”
Accompanied by Poirot he crossed the landing and entered the opposite room. A tall, elderly man looked up and nodded.
“Hallo, Japp, glad you’ve got here. Funny business, this.”
Japp advanced towards him. Hercule Poirot sent a quick searching glance round the room.
It was much larger than the room they had just quitted. It had a built-out bay window, and whereas the other room had been a bedroom pure
The walls were silver and the ceiling emerald green. There were curtains of a modernistic pattern in silver and green. There was a divan covered with a shimmering emerald green silk quilt and numbers of gold and silver cushions. There was a tall antique walnut bureau, a walnut tallboy, and several modern chairs of gleaming chromium. On a low glass table there was a big ashtray full of cigarette stubs.
Delicately Hercule Poirot sniffed the air. Then he joined Japp where the latter stood looking down at the body.
In a heap on the floor, lying as she had fallen from one of the chromium chairs, was the body of a young woman of perhaps twenty-seven. She had fair hair and delicate features. There was very little makeup on the face. It was a pretty, wistful, perhaps slightly stupid face. On the left side of the head was a mass of congealed blood. The fingers of the right hand were clasped round a small pistol. The woman was dressed in a simple frock of dark green high to the neck.
“Well, Brett, what’s the trouble?”
Japp was looking down also at the huddled figure.
“Position’s all right,” said the doctor. “If she shot herself she’d probably have slipped from the chair into just that position. The door was locked and the window was fastened on the inside.”
“That’s all right, you say. Then what’s wrong?”
“Take a look at the pistol. I haven’t handled it—waiting for the fingerprint men. But you can see quite well what I mean.”
Together Poirot and Japp knelt down and examined the pistol closely.
“I see what you mean,” said Japp rising. “It’s in the curve of her hand. It looks as though she’s holding it—but as a matter of fact she isn’t holding it. Anything else?”
“Plenty. She’s got the pistol in her right hand. Now take a look at the wound. The pistol was held close to the head just above the left ear—the left ear, mark you.”
“H’m,” said Japp. “That does seem to settle it. She couldn’t hold a pistol and fire it in that position with her right hand?”
“Plumb impossible, I should say. You might get your arm round but I doubt if you could fire the shot.”
“That seems pretty obvious then. Someone else shot her and tried to make it look like suicide. What about the locked door and window, though?”
Inspector Jameson answered this.
“Window was closed and bolted, sir, but although the door was locked we haven’t been able to find the key.”
“Yes, that was a bad break. Whoever did it locked the door when he left and hoped the absence of the key wouldn’t be noticed.”
“C’est bête, ça!”
“Oh, come now, Poirot, old man, you mustn’t judge everybody else by the light of your shining intellect! As a matter of fact that’s the sort of little detail that’s quite apt to be overlooked. Door’s locked. People break in. Woman found dead—pistol in her hand—clear case of suicide—she locked herself in to do it. They don’t go hunting about for keys. As a matter of fact, Miss Plenderleith’s sending for the police was lucky. She might have got one or two of the chauffeurs to come and burst in the door—and then the key question would have been overlooked altogether.”
“Yes, I suppose that is true,” said Hercule Poirot. “It would have been many people’s natural reaction. The police, they are the last resource, are they not?”
He was still staring down at the body.
“Anything strike you?” Japp asked.
The question was careless but his eyes were keen and attentive.
Hercule Poirot shook his head slowly.
“I was looking at her wristwatch.”
He bent over and just touched it with a fingertip. It was a dainty jewelled affair on a black moiré strap on the wrist of the hand that held the pistol.
“Rather a swell piece that,” observed Japp. “Must have cost money!” He cocked his head inquiringly at Poirot. “Something in that maybe?”
“It is possible—yes.”
Poirot strayed across to the writing bureau. It was the kind that has a front flap that lets down. This was daintily set out to match the general colour scheme.
There was a somewhat massive silver inkstand in the centre, in front of it a handsome green lacquer blotter. To the left of the blotter was an emerald glass pen tray containing a silver penholder—a stick of green sealing wax, a pencil and two stamps. On the right of the blotter was a movable calendar giving the day of the week, date and month. There was also a little glass jar of shot and standing in it a flamboyant green quill pen. Poirot seemed interested in the pen. He took it out and looked at it but the quill was innocent of ink. It was clearly a decoration—nothing more. The silver pen-holder with the ink-stained nib was the one in use. His eyes strayed to the calendar.
“Tuesday, November fifth,” said Japp. “Yesterday. That’s all correct.”
He turned to Brett.
“How long has she been dead?”
“She was killed at eleven thirty-three yesterday evening,” said Brett promptly.
Then he grinned as he saw Japp’s surprised face.
“Sorry, old boy,” he said. “Had to do the super doctor of fiction! As a matter of fact eleven is about as near as I can put it—with a margin of about an hour either way.”
“Oh, I thought the wristwatch might have stopped—or something.”
“It’s stopped all right, but it’s stopped at a quarter past four.”
“And I suppose she couldn’t have been killed possibly at a quarter past four.”
“You can put that right out of your mind.”
Poirot had turned back the cover of the blotter.
“Good idea,” said Japp. “But no luck.”
The blotter showed an innocent white sheet of blotting paper. Poirot turned over the leaves but they were all the same.
He turned his attention to the wastepaper basket.
It contained two or three torn-up letters and circulars. They were only torn once and were easily reconstructed. An appeal for money from some society for assisting ex-servicemen, an invitation to a cocktail party on November 3rd, an appointment with a dressmaker. The circulars were an announcement of a furrier’s sale and a catalogue from a department store.
“Nothing there,” said Japp.
“No, it is odd . . .” said Poirot.
“You mean they usually leave a letter when it’s suicide?”
“In fact, one more proof that it isn’t suicide.”
He moved away.
“I’ll have my men get to work now. We’d better go down and interview this Miss Plenderleith. Coming, Poirot?”
Poirot still seemed fascinated by the writing bureau and its appointments.
He left the room, but at the door his eyes went back once more to the flaunting emerald quill pen.
At the foot of the narrow flight of stairs a door gave admission to a large-sized living room—actually the converted stable. In this room, the walls of which were finished in a roughened plaster effect and on which hung etchings and woodcuts, two people were sitting.
One, in a chair near the fireplace, her hand stretched out to the blaze, was a dark efficient-looking young woman of twenty-seven or eight. The other, an elderly woman of ample proportions who carried a string bag, was panting and talking when the two men entered the room.
“—and as I said, Miss, such a turn it gave me I nearly dropped down where I stood. And to think that this morning of all mornings—”
The other cut her short.
“That will do, Mrs. Pierce. These gentlemen are police officers, I think.”
“Miss Plenderleith?” asked Japp, advancing.
The girl nodded.
“That is my name. This is Mrs. Pierce who comes in to work for us every day.”
The irrepressible Mrs. Pierce broke out again.
Japp broke in with some dexterity.
“Quite so, Mrs. Pierce. Now perhaps you would take Inspector Jameson into the kitchen and give him a brief statement.”
Having then got rid of the voluble Mrs. Pierce, who departed with Jameson talking thirteen to the dozen, Japp turned his attention once more to the girl.
“I am Chief Inspector Japp. Now, Miss Plenderleith, I should like to know all you can tell me about this business.”
“Certainly. Where shall I begin?”
Her self-possession was admirable. There were no signs of grief or shock save for an almost unnatural rigidity of manner.
“You arrived this morning at what time?”
“I think it was just before half past ten. Mrs. Pierce, the old liar, wasn’t here, I found—”
“Is that a frequent occurrence?”
Jane Plenderleith shrugged her shoulders.
“About twice a week she turns up at twelve—or not at all. She’s supposed to come at nine. Actually, as I say, twice a week she either ‘comes over queer,’ or else some member of her family is overtaken by sickness. All these daily women are like that—fail you now and again. She’s not bad as they go.”
“You’ve had her long?”
“Just over a month. Our last one pinched things.”
“Please go on, Miss Plenderleith.”
“I paid off the taxi, carried in my suitcase, looked round for Mrs. P., couldn’t see her and went upstairs to my room. I tidied up a bit then I went across to Barbara—Mrs. Allen—and found the door locked. I rattled the handle and knocked but could get no reply. I came downstairs and rang up the police station.”
“Pardon!” Poirot interposed a quick, deft question. “It did not occur to you to try and break down the door—with the help of one of the chauffeurs in the mews, say?”
Her eyes turned to him—cool, grey-green eyes. Her glance seemed to sweep over him quickly and appraisingly.
Murder in the Mews by Agatha Christie / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes