7. The Body
Followed by Dr. Constantine, Poirot made his way to the next coach and to the compartment occupied by the murdered man. The conductor came and unlocked the door for them with his key.
The two men passed inside. Poirot turned inquiringly to his companion.
“How much has been disarranged in this compartment?”
“Nothing has been touched. I was careful not to move the body in making my examination.”
Poirot nodded. He looked round him.
The first thing that struck the senses was the intense cold. The window was pushed down as far as it would go, and the blind was drawn up.
“Brrr,” observed Poirot.
The other smiled appreciatively.
“I did not like to close it,” he said.
Poirot examined the window carefully.
“You are right,” he announced. “Nobody left the carriage this way. Possibly the open window was intended to suggest that somebody did; but if so, the snow has defeated the murderer’s intention.”
He examined the frame of the window carefully. Taking a small case from his pocket he blew a little powder over the frame.
“No fingerprints at all,” he said. “That means it: has been wiped. Well, if there had been fingerprints they would have told us very little. They would have been those of Mr. Ratchett or his valet or the conductor. Criminals do not make mistakes of that kind nowadays.
“And that being so,” he added cheerfully, “we might as well shut the window. Positively it is the cold storage in here!”
He suited the action to the word and then turned his attention for the first time to the motionless figure lying in the bunk.
Ratchett lay on his back. His pyjama jacket, stained with rusty patches, had been unbuttoned and thrown back.
“I had to see the nature of the wounds, you see,” explained the doctor.
Poirot nodded. He bent
over the body. Finally he straightened himself with a slight grimace.
“It is not pretty,” he said. “Someone must have stood there and stabbed him again and again. How many wounds are there exactly?”
“I make it twelve. One or two are so slight as to be practically scratches. On the other hand, at least three would be capable of causing death.”
Something in the doctor’s tone caught Poirot’s attention. He looked at him sharply. The little Greek was standing staring down at the body with a puzzled frown.
“Something strikes you as odd, does it not?” he asked gently. “Speak, my friend. There is something here that puzzles you?”
“You are right,” acknowledged the other.
“What is it?”
“You see these two wounds-here and here-” He pointed. “They are deep. Each cut must have severed blood vessels-and yet the edges do not gape. They have not bled as one would have expected.”
“That the man was already dead-some little time dead-when they were delivered. But that is surely absurd.”
“It would seem so,” said Poirot thoughtfully. “Unless our murderer figured to himself that he had not accomplished his job properly and came back to make quite sure-but that is manifestly absurd! Anything else?”
“Well, just one thing.”
“You see this wound here-under the right arm-near the right shoulder. Take this pencil of mine. Could you deliver such a blow?”
Poirot poised his hand.
“Precisement,” he said. “I see. With theright hand it is exceedingly difficult, almost impossible. One would have to strike backhanded, as it were. But if the blow were struck with theleft hand-“
“Exactly, M. Poirot. That blow was almost certainly struck with theleft hand.