I really like Agatha Christie’s Poirot books, and the films. Pretty much all of them. This is not intended as a dig at anyone, or anything to do with the books, it is just a silly pet theory of mine.
Now, on to the story…
As we are ushered into the conservatory – my brother and sister-in-law, the maid Leticia, George the gardener and some chap from down the road – remember his name in a bit, things escape me these days, and I only met the fellow on Thursday – I can’t help but feel a sense of delight. It’s shameful, really. My wife, Susannah, died horribly, and I’ve not yet recovered from the shock, but there’s still something wonderful about this act of theatre, the final scene where this short, plump, moustachioed foreigner will describe exactly what motives led to this terrible crime.
I wonder who could possibly have done it.
I hope it was that chap – Harry, that was his name! – who I’ve only just met. It’s awful, really awful, thinking it might be someone Susannah knew and trusted.
The detective waits for us to be seated, then begins, clasping his hands in front of his portly belly.
“Mesdames and messieurs, I have brought you all here for one purpose: to solve the murder of Susannah Hartley. All of you knew her for a great many years. All, that is, except for you, monsieur Harry Benson.”
My heart drops. I’ve read the accounts of these accusations in the newspapers; if Harry’s being interrogated first, that makes it very unlikely that he’s the murderer.
But then, who could have done it? Everyone loved Susannah.
The detective works his way steadily around the room, discussing my little family’s petty differences with my wife – jealousy over her mother’s jewellery, a worry about dismissal. I start to feel dismayed. He’s making Susannah sound like an awful person, a harpy, a loose woman. She was nothing like that! And then he turns to me.
“And now we come to you, monsieur Hartley. You who have no alibi for the night that your wife was killed.”
“What are you talking about?” I exclaim. “I have an alibi. I was in the drawing room all evening, working on my memoirs. Wilkins saw that I was there – he told you – he liked to make sure I’m well looked after.”
“Ah, but monsieur. Wilkins was not there all the time, n’est pas? He was also spending the evening organising the party for the next day – and the little details, they can take so much time.”
I don’t want to say them, but the words rise to my mouth.
“But look here, Mr Parrot.” I’ve pronounced his name wrong, I know it, but somehow I feel that it’s in my role to insult him now, “you can’t be suggesting that I killed my own wife. Whatever for?”
“Ah, but I am suggesting exactly that. When you discovered on Wednesday morning that your wife was having an affair with monsieur Harry, you became wild with rage. You simply must exact your revenge. But, you are cunning – you do not want to be hanged for murder. Instead, it must appear that monsieur Harry is the murderer, and in this way you may be revenged upon both of them. First, though, the murder. You instruct Wilkins to ensure that everything is correct for the party. This is unusual for you, as you are more accustomed to allow your wife to instruct the staff on household matters, and it was your first mistake. You know you have but a little time, so you make our way to your wife’s bedroom with great haste – lucky, is it not, that your drawing-room is located right next to the stairs? And then you smother her with her pillow and make your escape. But before you leave, you make sure to leave an obvious clue: a touch of tobacco ash on your wife’s bedside table. You do not smoke, but monsieur Harry does, and to this end you have prepared some ash with which to frame him. But here you made a second mistake. You see, you had indeed spent the evening writing your memoirs, as a result of which you left a tiny smudge of ink on the pillowcase.”
But wait a minute, I want to say. I loved my wife. I had no idea she was having an affair with this Harry fellow, and I certainly did not know that Harry smoked. But I look around and see the faces of the others. They stare at me, accusingly. They all believe him.
All of them.
But, in that case, who killed Susannah?
I look up into the odd, reptilian eyes of the detective. He smirks down at me. He knows that he’s got me trapped. Who would believe my word against the word of this great and trusted man?
At that moment, I know. I know why my wife is dead, and why I have been accused. And I realise that the greatest mistake I have made – that many people must have made – was to invite Hercule Poirot into their lives.