1. The Evidence of the Wagon Lit Conductor
In the restaurant car all was in readiness.
Poirot and M. Bouc sat together on one side of a table. The doctor sat across the aisle.
On the table in front of Poirot was a plan of the Istanbul-Calais coach with the names of the passengers marked in red ink. The passports and tickets were in a pile at one side. There was writing paper, ink, pen, and pencils.
“Excellent,” said Poirot. “We can open our Court of Inquiry without more ado. First, I think, we should take the evidence of the Wagon Lit conductor. You probably know something about the man. What character has he? Is he a man on whose word you would place reliance?”
“I should say so, most assuredly. Pierre Michel has been employed by the company for over fifteen years. He is a Frenchman-lives near Calais. Thoroughly respectable and honest. Not, perhaps, remarkable for brains.”
Poirot nodded comprehendingly. “Good,”
he said. “Let us see him.”
Pierre Michel had recovered some of his assurance, but he was still extremely nervous.
“I hope Monsieur will not think that there has been any negligence on my part,” he said anxiously, his eyes going from Poirot to M. Bouc. “It is a terrible thing that has happened. I hope Monsieur does not think that it reflects on me in any way?”
Having soothed the man’s fears, Poirot began his questions. He first elicited Michel’s name and address, his length of service, and the length of time he had been on this particular route. These particulars he already knew, but the routine questions served to put the man at his ease.
“And now,” went on Poirot, “let us come to the events of Last night. M. Ratchett retired to bed-when?”
“Almost immediately after dinner, Monsieur. Actually before we leftBelgrade. So he did on the previous night. He had directed me to make up the bed while he was at dinner, and I did so.”
“Did anybody go into his compartment afterwards?”
“His valet, Monsieur, and the young American gentleman, his secretary.”
“No, Monsieur, not that I know of.”
“Good. And that is the last you saw or heard of him?”
“No, Monsieur. You forget he rang his bell about twenty to one-soon after we had stopped.”
“What happened exactly?”
“I knocked at the door, but he called out and said he had made a mistake.”
“In English or in French?”
“What were his words exactly?”
“Ce n’est rien. Je me suis tromp e.”
“Quite right,” said Poirot. “That is what I heard. And then you went away?”
“Did you go back to your seat?”
“No, Monsieur, I went first to answer another bell that had just rung.”
“Now, Michel, I am going to ask you an important question. Where were you at a quarter past one?’
“I, Monsieur? I was at my little seat at the end-facing up the corridor.”
“You are sure?”
“Mais oui – at least-“
“I went into the next coach, the Athens coach, to speak to my colleague there. We spoke about the snow. That was at some time soon after one o’clock. I cannot say exactly.”
“And you returned-when?”
“One of my bells rang, Monsieur-I remember-I told you. It was the American lady. She had rung several times.”
“I recollect,” said Poirot. “And after that?”
“After that, Monsieur? I answered your bell and brought you some mineral water. Then, about half an hour later, I made up the bed in one of the other compartments-that of the young American gentleman, Mr. Ratchett’s secretary.”