9. The Evidence of Mr. Hardman
The last of the first-class passengers to be interviewed, Mr. Hardman, was the big flamboyant American who had shared a table with the Italian and the valet.
He wore a somewhat loud check suit, a pink shirt, and a flashy tie-pin, and was rolling something round his tongue as he entered the dining-car. He had a big, fleshy, coarse-featured face, with a good-humoured expression.
“Morning, gentlemen,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
“You have heard of this murder, Mr.-er-Hardman?”
“Sure.” He shifted the chewing gum deftly.
“We are of necessity interviewing all the passengers on the train.”
“That’s all right by me. Guess that’s the only way to tackle the job.”
Poirot consulted the passport lying in front of him.
“You are Cyrus Bethman Hardman, United States subject, forty-one years of age, travelling salesman for typewriting ribbons?”
“O. K. That’s me.”
You are travelling from Stamboul toParis?”
“Do you always travel first-class, Mr. Hardman?”
“Yes, sir. The firm pays my travelling expenses. ” He winked.
“Now, Mr. Hardman, we come to the events of last night.”
The American nodded.
“What can you tell us about the matter?”
“Exactly nothing at all.”
“Ah, that is a pity. Perhaps, Mr. Hardman, you will tell us exactly what you did last night from dinner onwards?”
For the first time the American did not seem ready with his reply. At last he said: “Excuse me, gentlemen, but just who are you? Put me wise.”
“This is M. Bouc, a director of the Compagnie des Wagons Lits. This gentleman is the doctor who examined the body.”
“And you yourself?”
“I am Hercule Poirot. I am engaged by the company to investigate this matter.”
“I’ve heard of you,” said Mr. Hardman. He reflected a minute or two longer. “Guess I’d better come clean.”
“It will certainly be advisable for you to tell us all you know,” said Poirot drily.
“You’d have said a mouthful if there was anything Idid know. But I don’t. I know nothing at all-just as I said. But Iought to know something. That’s what makes me sore. Iought to.”
“Please explain, Mr. Hardman.”
Mr. Hardman sighed, removed the chewing gum, and dived into a pocket. At the same time his whole personality seemed to undergo a change. He became less of a stage character and more of a real person. The resonant nasal tones of his voice became modified.
“That passport’s a bit of bluff,” he said. “That’s who I really am.”
Poirot scrutinised the card flipped across to him. M. Bouc peered over his shoulder.
Poirot knew the name as that of one of the best-known and most reputable private detective agencies in New York.
“Now, Mr. Hardman,” he said, “let us hear the meaning of this.”
“Sure. Things came about this way. I’d come over to Europe trailing a couple of crooks-nothing to do with this business. The chase ended in Stamboul. I wired the Chief and got his instructions to return, and I would have been making my tracks back to little old New York when I got this.”
He pushed across a letter.
THE TOKATLLAN HOTEL
You have been pointed out to me as an operative of the McNeil Detective Agency. Kindly report at my suite atfour o’clock this afternoon.
S. E. RATCHETT
“I reported at the time stated, and Mr. Ratchett put me wise to the situation. He showed me a couple of letters he’d got.”
“He was alarmed?”