2. The Evidence of the Secretary
For a minute or two Poirot remained lost, in thought.
“I think,” he said at last, “that it would be well to have a further word with Mr. MacQueen, in view of what we now know.”
The young American appeared promptly.
“Well,” he said, “how are things going?”
“Not too badly. Since our last conversation, I have learnt something-the identity of Mr. Ratchett.”
Hector MacQueen leaned forward interestedly. “Yes?” he said.
” ‘Ratchett,’ as you suspected, was merely an alias. The man ‘Ratchett’ was Cassetti, who ran the celebrated kidnapping stunts-including the famous affair of little Daisy Armstrong.”
An expression of utter astonishment appeared on MacQueen’s face. Then it darkened. “The damned skunk!” he exclaimed.
“You had no idea of this, Mr. MacQueen?”
sir,” said the young American decidedly. “If I had, I’d have cut off my right hand before it had a chance to do secretarial work for him!”
“You feel strongly about the matter, Mr. MacQueen?”
“I have a particular reason for doing so. My father was the district attorney who handled the case, Mr. Poirot. I saw Mrs. Armstrong more than once-she was a lovely woman. So gentle and heartbroken.” His face darkened. “If ever a man deserved what he got, Ratchett-or Cassetti-is the man. I’m rejoiced at his end. Such a man wasn’t fit to live!”
“You almost feel as though you would have been willing to do the good deed yourself?”
“I do. I-” He paused, then added rather guiltily, “Seems I’m kind of incriminating myself.”
“I should be more inclined to suspect you, Mr. MacQueen, if you displayed an inordinate sorrow at your employer’s decease.”
“I don’t think I could do that even to save myself from the chair,” said MacQueen grimly. Then he added: “If I’m not being unduly curious, just how did you figure this out? Cassetti’s identity, I mean.”
“By a fragment of a letter found in his compartment.”
“But surely-I mean-that was rather careless of the old man?”
“That depends,” said Poirot, “on the point of view.”
The young man seemed to find this remark rather baffling. He stared at Poirot as though trying to make him out.
“The task before me,” said Poirot, “is to make sure of the movements of every one on the train. No offence need be taken, you understand. It is only a matter of routine.”
“Sure. Get right on with it and let me clear my character if I can.”
“I need hardly ask you the number of your compartment,” said Poirot, smiling, “since I shared it with you for a night. It is the second-class compartment Nos. 6 and 7, and after my departure you had it to yourself.”
“Now, Mr. MacQueen, I want you to describe your movements last night from the time of leaving the dining-car.”
“That’s quite easy. I went back to my compartment, read a bit, got out on the platform at Belgrade, decided it was too cold, and got in again. I talked for a while to a young English lady who is in the compartment next to mine. Then I fell into conversation with that Englishman, Colonel Arbuthnot-as a matter of fact I think you passed us as we were talking. Then I went in to Mr. Ratchett and, as I told you, took down some memoranda of letters he wanted written. I said good tight to him and left him. Colonel Arbuthnot was still standing in the corridor. His compartment was already made up for the night, so I suggested that he should come along to mine.