Murder on the Links (1985)/Chapter 4
The Letter Signed
FRANÇOISE had left the room. The magistrate was drumming thoughtfully on the table. “M. Bex,” he said at length, “here we have directly conflicting testimony. Which are we to believe, Françoise or Denise?”
“Denise,” said the commissary decidedly. “It was she who let the visitor in. Françoise is old and obstinate, and has evidently taken a dislike to Madame Daubreuil. Besides, our own knowledge tends to show that Renauld was entangled with another woman.”
“Tiens!” cried M. Hautet. “We have forgotten to inform M. Poirot of that.” He searched among the papers on the table and finally handed the one he was in search of to my friend. “This letter, M. Poirot, we found in the pocket of the dead man’s overcoat.”
Poirot took it and unfolded it. It was somewhat worn and crumbled, and was written in English in a rather unformed hand:
My dearest one:
Why have you not written for so long? You do love me still, don’t you? Your letters lately have been so different, cold and strange, and now this long silence. It makes me afraid. If you were to stop loving me! But that’s impossible—what a silly kid I am—always imagining things! But if you did stop loving me, I don’t know what I should do—kill myself perhaps! I couldn’t live without you. Sometimes I fancy another woman is coming between us. Let her look out, that’s all—and you too! I’d as soon kill You as let her have you! I mean it.
But there, I’m writing high-flown nonsense. You love me, and I love you—yes, love you, love you, love you!
Your own adoring
There was no address or date. Poirot handed it back with a grave face.
“And the assumption is, M. le juge—?”
The examining magistrate shrugged his shoulders. “Obviously M. Renauld was entangled with this Englishwoman—Bella. He comes over here, meets Madame Daubreuil, and starts an intrigue with her. He cools off to the other, and she instantly suspects something. This letter contains a distinct threat. M. Poirot, at first sight the case seemed simplicity itself. Jealousy! The fact that M. Renauld was stabbed in the back seemed to point distinctly to its being a woman’s crime.”
“The stab in the back, yes—but not the grave! That was laborious work, hard work—no woman dug that grave, monsieur. That was a man’s doing.”
The commissary exclaimed excitedly, “Yes, yes, you are right. We did not think of that.”
“As I said,” continued M. Hautet, “at first sight the case seemed simple, but the masked men and the letter you received from M. Renauld complicate matters. Here we seem to have an entirely different set of circumstances, with no relationship between the two. As regards the letter written to yourself, do you think it is possible that it referred in any way to this Bella, and her threats?”
Poirot shook his head.
“Hardly. A man like M. Renauld, who has led an adventurous life in out-of-the-way places, would not be likely to ask for protection against a woman.”
The examining magistrate nodded his head emphatically. “My view exactly. Then we must look for the explanation of the letter—”
“In Santiago,” finished the commissary. “I shall cable without delay to the police in that city, requesting full details of the murdered man’s life out there, his love affairs, his business transactions, his friendships, and any enmities he may have incurred. It will be strange if, after that, we do not hold a clue to his mysterious murder.”
The commissary looked round for approval.
“Excellent,” said Poirot appreciatively.
“His wife, too, may be able to give us a pointer,” added the magistrate.
“You have found no other letters from this Bella among M. Renauld’s effects?” asked Poirot.
“No. Of course one of our first proceedings was to search through his private papers in the study. We found nothing of interest, however. All seemed square and aboveboard. The only thing at all out of the ordinary was his will. Here it is.”
Poirot ran through the document.
“So. A legacy of a thousand pounds to Mr. Stonor—who is he, by the way?”
“M. Renauld’s secretary. He remained in England, but was over here once or twice for a week-end.”
“And everything else left unconditionally to his beloved wife, Eloise. Simply drawn up, but perfectly legal. Witnessed by the two servants, Denise and Françoise. Nothing so very unusual about that.” He handed it back.
“Perhaps,” began Bex, “you did not notice—"
“The date?” twinkled Poirot. “But yes, I noticed it. A fortnight ago. Possibly it marks his first intimation of danger. Many rich men die intestate through never considering the likelihood of their demise. But it is dangerous to draw conclusions prematurely. It points, however, to his having a real liking and fondness for his wife, in spite of his amorous intrigues.”
“Yes,” said M. Hautet doubtfully. “But it is possibly a little unfair on his son, since it leaves him entirely dependent on his mother. If she were to marry again, and her second husband obtained an ascendancy over her, this boy might never touch a penny of his father’s money.”
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
“Man is a vain animal. M. Renauld figured to himself, without doubt, that his widow would never marry again. As to the son, it may have been a wise precaution to leave the money in his mother’s hands. The sons of rich men are proverbially wild.”
“It may be as you say. Now. M. Poirot, you would without doubt like to visit the scene of the crime. I am sorry that the body has been removed, but of course photographs have been taken from every conceivable angle, and will be at your disposal as soon as they are available.”
“I thank you, monsieur, for all your courtesy.”
The commissary rose.
“Come with me, monsieurs.”
He opened the door, and bowed ceremoniously to Poirot to precede him. Poirot, with equal politeness, drew back and bowed to the commissary.
At last they got out into the hall.
“That room there, it is the study, hein?” asked Poirot suddenly, nodding toward the door opposite.
“Yes. You would like to see it?” He threw the door open as he spoke, and we entered.
The room which M. Renauld had chosen for his own particular use was small, but furnished with great taste and comfort. A businesslike writing desk, with many pigeonholes, stood in the window. Two large leather-covered armchairs faced the fireplace, and between them was a round table covered with the latest books and magazines. Bookshelves lined two of the walls, and at the end of the room opposite the window there was a handsome oak sideboard with a tantalus on top. The curtains were of a soft dull green, and the carpet matched them in tone.
Poirot stood a moment talking in the room, then he stepped forward, passed his hand lightly over the backs of the leather chairs, picked up a magazine from the table, and drew a finger gingerly over the surface of the oak sideboard. His face expressed complete approval.
“No dust?” I asked, with a smile.
He beamed on me, appreciative of my knowledge of his peculiarities.
“Not a particle, mon ami! And for once, perhaps, it is a pity!”
His sharp, birdlike eyes darted here and there.
“Ah!” he remarked suddenly, with an intonation of relief. “The hearthrug is crooked,” and he bent down to straighten it
Suddenly he uttered an exclamation and rose. In his hand he held a small fragment of paper.
“In France, as in England,” he remarked, "the domestics omit to sweep under the mats!”
Bex took the fragment from him, and I came closer to examine it.
“You recognize it—eh, Hastings?”
I shook my head, puzzled—and yet that particular shade of pink paper was very familiar.
The commissary’s mental processes were quicker than mine.
“A fragment of a check,” he exclaimed.
The piece of paper was roughly about two inches square. On it was written in ink the word Duveen.
“Bien," said Bex. “This check was payable to, or drawn by, one named Duveen.”
“The former, I fancy,” said Poirot, “for, if I am not mistaken, the handwriting is that of M. Renauld.”
That was soon established, by comparing it with a memorandum from the desk.
“Dear me,” murmured the commissary, with a crestfallen air, “I really cannot imagine how I came to overlook this.”
Poirot laughed. “The moral of that is, always look under the mats! My friend Hastings here will tell you that anything in the least crooked is a torment to me. As soon as I saw that the hearthrug was out of the straight, I said to myself: ‘Tiens! The leg of the chair caught it in being pushed back. Possibly there may be something beneath it which the good Françoise overlooked.’”
“Or Denise, or Léonie. Whoever did this room. Since there is no dust, the room must have been done this morning. I reconstruct the incident like this. Yesterday, possibly last night, M. Renauld drew a check to the order of someone named Duveen. Afterward it was torn up, and scattered on the floor. This morning—" But M. Bex was already pulling impatiently at the bell.
Françoise answered it. Yes, there had been a lot of pieces of paper on the floor. What had she done with them? Put them in the kitchen stove of course! What else?
With a gesture of despair, Bex dismissed her. Then, his face lightening, he ran to the desk. In a minute he was hunting through the dead man’s checkbook. Then he repeated his former gesture. The last counterfoil was blank.
“Courage!” cried Poirot, clapping him on the back. “Without doubt, Madame Renauld will be able to tell us all about this mysterious person named Duveen.”
The commissary's face cleared. “That is true. Let us proceed.”
As we turned to leave the room, Poirot remarked casually, “It was here that M. Renauld received his guest last night, eh?”
“It was—but how did you know?”
“By this. I found it on the back of the leather chair.” And he held up between his finger and thumb a long black hair—a woman's hair!
M. Bex took us out by the back of the house to where there was a small shed leaning against the house. He produced a key from his pocket and unlocked it.
“The body is here. We moved it from the scene of the crime just before you arrived, as the photographers had done with it.”
He opened the door and we passed in. The murdered man lay on the ground, with a sheet over him. M. Bex dexterously whipped off the covering. Renauld was a man of medium height, slender and lithe in figure. He looked about fifty years of age, and his dark hair was plentifully streaked with gray. He was clean-shaven with a long thin nose, and eyes set rather close together, and his skin was deeply bronzed, as that of a man who had spent most of his life beneath tropical skies. His lips were drawn back from his teeth and an expression of absolute amazement and terror was stamped on the livid features.
“One can see by his face that he was stabbed in the back,” remarked Poirot.
Very gently he turned the dead man over. There, between the shoulder blades, staining the light fawn overcoat, was a round dark patch. In the middle of it there was a slit in the cloth. Poirot examined it narrowly.
“Have you any idea with what weapon the crime was committed?”
“It was left in the wound.” The commissary took down a large glass jar. In it was a small object that looked to me more like a paper knife than anything else. It had a black handle, and a narrow, shining blade. The whole thing was not more than ten inches long. Poirot tested the discolored point gingerly with his finger tip.
“Ma foi! but it is sharp! A nice easy little tool for murder!”
“Unfortunately, we could find no trace of fingerprints on it,” remarked Bex regretfully. “The murderer must have worn gloves.”
“Of course he did,” said Poirot contemptuously. “Even in Santiago they know enough for that. All the same, it interests me very much that there were no fingerprints. It is so amazingly simple to leave the fingerprints of someone else! And then the police are happy.” He shook his head. “I very much fear our criminal is not a man of method—either that or he was pressed for time. But we shall see.”
He let the body fall back into its original position.
“He wore only underclothes under his overcoat, I see,” he remarked.
“Yes, the examining magistrate thinks that is rather a curious point.”
At this minute there was a tap on the door, which Bex had closed after him. He strode forward and opened it. Françoise was there. She endeavored to peep in with ghoulish curiosity.
“Well, what is it?" demanded Bex impatiently.
“Madame. She sends a message that she is much recovered, and is quite ready to receive the examining magistrate.”
“Good,” said M. Bex briskly. “Tell M. Hautet and say that we will come at once.”
Poirot lingered a moment, looking back toward the body. I thought for a moment that he was going to apostrophize it, to declare aloud his determination never to rest till he had discovered the murderer. But when he spoke, it was tamely and awkwardly, and his comment was ludicrously inappropriate to the solemnity of the moment.
“He wore his overcoat very long,” he said constrainedly.