8. The Armstrong Kidnapping Case
They found M. Bouc finishing an omelet.
“I thought it best to have lunch served immediately in the restaurant car,” he said. “Afterwards it will be cleared and M. Poirot can conduct his examination of the passengers there. In the meantime I have ordered them to bring us three some food here.”
“An excellent idea,” said Poirot.
None of the three men was hungry, and the meal was soon eaten; but not till they were sipping their coffee did M. Bouc mention the subject that was occupying all their minds.
“Eh bien?” he asked.
“Eh bien, I have discovered the identity of the victim. I know why it was imperative he should leave America.”
“Who was he?”
“Do you remember reading of the Armstrong baby? This is the man who murdered little Daisy Armstrong. Cassetti.”
“I recall it now. A shocking affair-though I cannot remember the details.”
“Colonel Armstrong was an Englishman-a V. C. He was half American, his mother having been a daughter of W. K. Van der Halt, the Wall Street millionaire. He married the daughter of Linda Arden, the most famous tragic American actress of her day. They lived in America and had one child-a girl whom they idolized. When she was three years old she was kidnapped, and an impossibly high sum demanded as the price of her return. I will not weary you with all the intricacies that followed. I will come to the moment when, after the parents had paid over the enormous sum of two hundred thousand dollars, the child’s dead body was discovered; it had been dead for at least a fortnight. Public indignation rose to fever point. And there was worse to follow. Mrs. Armstrong was expecting another baby. Following the shock of the discovery, she gave birth prematurely to a dead child, and herself died. Her broken-hearted husband shot himself.”
what a tragedy. I remember now,” said M. Bouc. “There was also another death, if I remember rightly?”
“Yes, an unfortunate French or Swiss nursemaid. The police were convinced that she had some knowledge of the crime. They refused to believe her hysterical denials. Finally, in a fit of despair the poor girl threw herself from a window and was killed. It was proved afterwards that she had been absolutely innocent of any complicity in the crime.”
“It is not good to think of,” said M. Bouc.
“About six months later, this man Cassetti was arrested as the head of the gang who had kidnapped the child. They had used the same methods in the past. If the police seemed likely to get on their trail, they killed their prisoner, hid the body, and continued to extract as much money as possible before the crime was discovered.
“Now, I will make clear to you this, my friend. Cassetti was the man! But by means of the enormous wealth he had piled up, and owing to the secret hold he had over various persons, he was acquitted on some technical inaccuracy. Notwithstanding that, he would have been lynched by the populace had he not been clever enough to give them the slip. It is now clear to me what happened. He changed his name and left America. Since then he has been a gentleman of leisure, travelling abroad and living on hisrentes.”
“Ah! quel animal!” M. Bouc’s tone was redolent of heartfelt disgust. “I cannot regret that he is dead-not at all!”
“I agree with you.”
“Tout de meme, it is not necessary that he should be killed on the Orient Express. There are other places.”
Poirot smiled a little. He realised that M. Bouc was biased in the matter.