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Cards on the table, p.7
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       Cards on the Table, p.7

         Part #15 of Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christie
 
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  “My dear girl, no need to be an oyster. I told you to tell him all he wanted to know. What did he want to know, by the way?”

  “Oh, he kept harping on your knowing that man Shaitana—suggested even that he might have come here as a patient under a different name. He showed me his photograph. Such a theatrical-looking man!”

  “Shaitana? Oh, yes, fond of posing as a modern Mephistopheles. It went down rather well on the whole. What else did Battle ask you?”

  “Really nothing very much. Except—oh, yes, somebody had been telling him some absurd nonsense about Mrs. Graves—you know the way she used to go on.”

  “Graves? Graves? Oh, yes, old Mrs. Graves. That’s rather funny!” The doctor laughed with considerable amusement. “That’s really very funny indeed.”

  And in high good humour he went in to lunch.

  Ten

  DR. ROBERTS (CONTINUED)

  Superintendent Battle was lunching with M. Hercule Poirot.

  The former looked downcast, the latter sympathetic.

  “Your morning, then, has not been entirely successful,” said Poirot thoughtfully.

  Battle shook his head.

  “It’s going to be uphill work, M. Poirot.”

  “What do you think of him?”

  “Of the doctor? Well, frankly, I think Shaitana was right. He’s a killer. Reminds me of Westaway. And of that lawyer chap in Norfolk. Same hearty, self-confident manner. Same popularity. Both of them were clever devils—so’s Roberts. All the same, it doesn’t follow that Roberts killed Shaitana—and as a matter of fact I don’t think he did. He’d know the risk too well—better than a layman would—that Shaitana might wake and cry out. No, I don’t think Roberts murdered him.”

  “But you think he has murdered someone?”

  “Possibly quite a lot of people. Westaway had. But it’s going to be hard to get at. I’ve looked over his bank account—nothing suspicious there—no large sums suddenly paid in. At any rate, in the last seven years he’s not had any legacy from a patient. That wipes out murder for direct gain. He’s never married—that’s a pity—so ideally simple for a doctor to kill his own wife. He’s well-to-do, but then he’s got a thriving practice among well-to-do people.”

  “In fact he appears to lead a thoroughly blameless life—and perhaps does do so.”

  “Maybe. But I prefer to believe the worst.”

  He went on:

  “There’s the hint of a scandal over a woman—one of his patients—name of Craddock. That’s worth looking up, I think. I’ll get someone onto that straightaway. Woman actually died out in Egypt of some local disease so I don’t think there’s anything in that—but it might throw a light on his general character and morals.”

  “Was there a husband?”

  “Yes. Husband died of anthrax.”

  “Anthrax?”

  “Yes, there were a lot of cheap shaving brushes on the market just then—some of them infected. There was a regular scandal about it.”

  “Convenient,” suggested Poirot.

  “That’s what I thought. If her husband were threatening to kick up a row—But there, it’s all conjecture. We haven’t a leg to stand upon.”

  “Courage, my friend. I know your patience. In the end, you will have perhaps as many legs as a centipede.”

  “And fall into the ditch as a result of thinking about them,” grinned Battle.

  Then he asked curiously:

  “What about you, M. Poirot? Going to take a hand?”

  “I, too, might call on Dr. Roberts.”

  “Two of us in one day. That ought to put the wind up him.”

  “Oh, I shall be very discreet. I shall not inquire into his past life.”

  “I’d like to know just exactly what line you’ll take,” said Battle curiously, “but don’t tell me unless you want to.”

  “Du tout—du tout. I am most willing. I shall talk a little of bridge, that is all.”

  “Bridge again. You harp on that, don’t you, M. Poirot?”

  “I find the subject very useful.”

  “Well, every man to his taste. I don’t deal much in the fancy approaches. They don’t suit my style.”

  “What is your style, superintendent?”

  The superintendent met the twinkle in Poirot’s eyes with an answering twinkle in his own.

  “A straightforward, honest, zealous officer doing his duty in the most laborious manner—that’s my style. No frills. No fancy work. Just honest perspiration. Stolid and a bit stupid—that’s my ticket.”

  Poirot raised his glass.

  “To our respective methods—and may success crown our joint efforts.”

  “I expect Colonel Race may get us something worth having about Despard,” said Battle. “He’s got a good many sources of information.”

  “And Mrs. Oliver?”

  “Bit of a toss-up there. I rather like that woman. Talks a lot of nonsense, but she’s a sport. And women get to know things about other women that men can’t get at. She may spot something useful.”

  They separated. Battle went back to Scotland Yard to issue instructions for certain lines to be followed up. Poirot betook himself to 200 Gloucester Terrace.

  Dr. Roberts’ eyebrows rose comically as he greeted his guest.

  “Two sleuths in one day,” he asked. “Handcuffs by this evening, I suppose.”

  Poirot smiled.

  “I can assure you, Dr. Roberts, that my attentions are being equally divided between all four of you.”

  “That’s something to be thankful for, at all events. Smoke?”

  “If you permit, I prefer my own.”

  Poirot lighted one of his tiny Russian cigarettes.

  “Well, what can I do for you?” asked Roberts.

  Poirot was silent for a minute or two puffing, then he said:

  “Are you a keen observer of human nature, doctor?”

  “I don’t know. I suppose I am. A doctor has to be.”

  “That was exactly my reasoning. I said to myself, ‘A doctor has always to be studying his patients—their expressions, their colour, how fast they breathe, any signs of restlessness—a doctor notices these things automatically almost without noticing he notices! Dr. Roberts is the man to help me.’”

  “I’m willing enough to help. What’s the trouble?”

  Poirot produced from a neat little pocketcase three carefully folded bridge scores.

  “These are the first three rubbers the other evening,” he explained. “Here is the first one—in Miss Meredith’s handwriting. Now can you tell me—with this to refresh your memory—exactly what the calling was and how each hand went?”

  Roberts stared at him in astonishment.

  “You’re joking, M. Poirot. How can I possibly remember?”

  “Can’t you? I should be very grateful if you could. Take this first rubber. The first game must have resulted in a game call in hearts or spades, or else one or other side must have gone down fifty.”

  “Let me see—that was the first hand. Yes, I think they went out in spades.”

  “And the next hand?”

  “I suppose one or other of us went down fifty—but I can’t remember which or what it was in. Really, M. Poirot, you can hardly expect me to do so.”

  “Can’t you remember any of the calling or the hands?”

  “I got a grand slam—I remember that. It was doubled too. And I also remember going down a nasty smack—playing three no trumps, I think it was—went down a packet. But that was later on.”

  “Do you remember with whom you were playing?”

  “Mrs. Lorrimer. She looked a bit grim, I remember. Didn’t like my overcalling, I expect.”

  “And you can’t remember any other of the hands or the calling?”

  Roberts laughed.

  “My dear M. Poirot, did you really expect I could. First there was the murder—enough to drive the most spectacular hands out of one’s mind—and in addition I’ve played at least half a dozen rubbers sinc
e then.”

  Poirot sat looking rather crestfallen.

  “I’m sorry,” said Roberts.

  “It does not matter very much,” said Poirot slowly. “I hoped that you might remember one or two, at least, of the hands, because I thought they might be valuable landmarks in remembering other things.”

  “What other things?”

  “Well you might have noticed, for instance, that your partner made a mess of playing a perfectly simple no trumper, or that an opponent, say, presented you with a couple of unexpected tricks by failing to lead an obvious card.”

  Dr. Roberts became suddenly serious. He leaned forward in his chair.

  “Ah,” he said. “Now I see what you’re driving at. Forgive me. I thought at first you were talking pure nonsense. You mean that the murder—the successful accomplishment of the murder—might have made a definite difference in the guilty party’s play?”

  Poirot nodded.

  “You have seized the idea correctly. It would be a clue of the first excellence if you had been four players who knew each other’s game well. A variation, a sudden lack of brilliance, a missed opportunity—that would have been immediately noticed. Unluckily, you were all strangers to each other. Variation in play would not be so noticeable. But think, M. le docteur, I beg of you to think. Do you remember any inequalities—any sudden glaring mistakes—in the play of anyone?”

  There was silence for a minute or two, then Dr. Roberts shook his head.

  “It’s no good. I can’t help you,” he said frankly. “I simply don’t remember. All I can tell you is what I told you before: Mrs. Lorrimer is a first-class player—she never made a slip that I noticed. She was brilliant from start to finish. Despard’s play was uniformly good too. Rather a conventional player—that is, his bidding is strictly conventional. He never steps outside the rules. Won’t take a long chance. Miss Meredith—” He hesitated.

  “Yes? Miss Meredith?” Poirot prompted him.

  “She did make mistakes—once or twice—I remember—towards the end of the evening, but that may simply have been because she was tired—not being a very experienced player. Her hand shook, too—”

  He stopped.

  “When did her hand shake?”

  “When was it now? I can’t remember … I think she was just nervous. M. Poirot, you’re making me imagine things.”

  “I apologize. There is another point on which I seek your help.”

  “Yes?”

  Poirot said slowly:

  “It is difficult. I do not, you see, wish to ask you a leading question. If I say, did you notice so and so—well, I have put the thing into your head. Your answer will not be so valuable. Let me try to get at the matter another way. If you will be so kind, Dr. Roberts, describe to me the contents of the room in which you played.”

  Roberts looked thoroughly astonished.

  “The contents of the room?”

  “If you will be so good.”

  “My dear fellow, I simply don’t know where to begin.”

  “Begin anywhere you choose.”

  “Well, there was a good deal of furniture—”

  “Non, non, non, be precise, I pray of you.”

  Dr. Roberts sighed.

  He began facetiously after the manner of an auctioneer.

  “One large settee upholstered in ivory brocade—one ditto in green ditto—four or five large chairs. Eight or nine Persian rugs—a set of twelve small gilt Empire chairs. William and Mary bureau. (I feel just like an auctioneer’s clerk.) Very beautiful Chinese cabinet. Grand piano. There was other furniture but I’m afraid I didn’t notice it. Six first-class Japanese prints. Two Chinese pictures on looking glass. Five or six very beautiful snuffboxes. Some Japanese ivory netsuke figures on a table by themselves. Some old silver—Charles I tazzas, I think. One or two pieces of Battersea enamel—”

  “Bravo, bravo!” Poirot applauded.

  “A couple of old English slipware birds—and, I think, a Ralph Wood figure. Then there was some Eastern stuff—intricate silver work. Some jewellery, I don’t know much about that. Some Chelsea birds, I remember. Oh, and some miniatures in a case—pretty good ones, I fancy. That’s not all by a long way—but it’s all I can think of for the minute.”

  “It is magnificent,” said Poirot with due appreciation. “You have the true observer’s eye.”

  The doctor asked curiously:

  “Have I included the object you had in mind?”

  “That is the interesting thing about it,” said Poirot. “If you had mentioned the object I had in mind it would have been extremely surprising to me. As I thought, you could not mention it.”

  “Why?”

  Poirot twinkled.

  “Perhaps—because it was not there to mention.”

  Roberts stared.

  “That seems to remind me of something.”

  “It reminds you of Sherlock Holmes, does it not? The curious incident of the dog in the night. The dog did not howl in the night. That is the curious thing! Ah, well, I am not above stealing the tricks of others.”

  “Do you know, M. Poirot, I am completely at sea as to what you are driving at.”

  “That is excellent, that. In confidence, that is how I get my little effects.”

  Then, as Dr. Roberts still looked rather dazed, Poirot said with a smile as he rose to his feet:

  “You may at least comprehend this, what you have told me is going to be very helpful to me in my next interview.”

  The doctor rose also.

  “I can’t see how, but I’ll take your word for it,” he said.

  They shook hands.

  Poirot went down the steps of the doctor’s house, and hailed a passing taxi.

  “111 Cheyne Lane, Chelsea,” he told the driver.

  Eleven

  MRS. LORRIMER

  111 Cheyne Lane was a small house of very neat and trim appearance standing in a quiet street. The door was painted black and the steps were particularly well whitened, the brass of the knocker and handle gleamed in the afternoon sun.

  The door was opened by an elderly parlourmaid with an immaculate white cap and apron.

  In answer to Poirot’s inquiry she said that her mistress was at home.

  She preceded him up the narrow staircase.

  “What name, sir?”

  “M. Hercule Poirot.”

  He was ushered into a drawing room of the usual L shape. Poirot looked about him, noting details. Good furniture, well polished, of the old family type. Shiny chintz on the chairs and settees. A few silver photograph frames about in the old-fashioned manner. Otherwise an agreeable amount of space and light, and some really beautiful chrysanthemums arranged in a tall jar.

  Mrs. Lorrimer came forward to meet him.

  She shook hands without showing any particular surprise at seeing him, indicated a chair, took one herself and remarked favourably on the weather.

  There was a pause.

  “I hope, madame,” said Hercule Poirot, “that you will forgive this visit.”

  Looking directly at him, Mrs. Lorrimer asked:

  “Is this a professional visit?”

  “I confess it.”

  “You realize, I suppose, M. Poirot, that though I shall naturally give Superintendent Battle and the official police any information and help they may require, I am by no means bound to do the same for any unofficial investigator?”

  “I am quite aware of that fact, madame. If you show me the door, me, I march to that door with complete submission.”

  Mrs. Lorrimer smiled very slightly.

  “I am not yet prepared to go to those extremes, M. Poirot. I can give you ten minutes. At the end of that time I have to go out to a bridge party.”

  “Ten minutes will be ample for my purpose. I want you to describe to me, madame, the room in which you played bridge the other evening—the room in which Mr. Shaitana was killed.”

  Mrs. Lorrimer’s eyebrows rose.

  “What an extraordinary question! I d
o not see the point of it.”

  “Madame, if when you were playing bridge, someone were to say to you—why do you play that ace or why do you put on the knave that is taken by the queen and not the king which would take the trick? If people were to ask you such questions, the answers would be rather long and tedious, would they not?”

  Mrs. Lorrimer smiled slightly.

  “Meaning that in this game you are the expert and I am the novice. Very well.” She reflected a minute. “It was a large room. There were a good many things in it.”

  “Can you describe some of those things?”

  “There were some glass flowers—modern—rather beautiful … And I think there were some Chinese or Japanese pictures. And there was a bowl of tiny red tulips—amazingly early for them.”

  “Anything else?”

  “I’m afraid I didn’t notice anything in detail.”

  “The furniture—do you remember the colour of the upholstery?”

  “Something silky, I think. That’s all I can say.”

  “Did you notice any of the small objects?”

  “I’m afraid not. There were so many. I know it struck me as quite a collector’s room.”

  There was silence for a minute. Mrs. Lorrimer said with a faint smile:

  “I’m afraid I have not been very helpful.”

  “There is something else.” He produced the bridge scores. “Here are the first three rubbers played. I wondered if you could help me with the aid of these scores to reconstruct the hands.”

  “Let me see.” Mrs. Lorrimer looked interested. She bent over the scores.

  “That was the first rubber. Miss Meredith and I were playing against the two men. The first game was played in four spades. We made it and an over trick. Then the next hand was left at two diamonds and Dr. Roberts went down one trick on it. There was quite a lot of bidding on the third hand, I remember. Miss Meredith passed. Major Despard went a heart. I passed. Dr. Roberts gave a jump bid of three clubs. Miss Meredith went three spades. Major Despard bid four diamonds. I doubled. Dr. Roberts took it into four hearts. They went down one.”

  “Epatant,” said Poirot. “What a memory!”

  Mrs. Lorrimer went on, disregarding him:

 
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