Read Third Girl Online

Authors: Agatha Christie

Third Girl (5 page)

“Hercule Poirot, at your service, Madame,” he said.

“Where've you been?” said Mrs. Oliver. “You've been away all day. I suppose you went down to look up the Restaricks. Is that it? Did you see Sir Roderick? What did you find out?”

“Nothing,” said Hercule Poirot.

“How dreadfully dull,” said Mrs. Oliver.

“No, I do not think it is really so dull. It is rather astonishing that I have
not
found out anything.”

“Why is it so astonishing? I don't understand.”

“Because,” said Poirot, “it means either there was nothing to find out, and that, let me tell you, does not accord with the facts; or else something was being very cleverly concealed. That, you see, would be interesting. Mrs. Restarick, by the way, did not know the girl was missing.”

“You mean—she has nothing to do with the girl having disappeared?”

“So it seems. I met there the young man.”

“You mean the unsatisfactory young man that nobody likes?”

“That is right. The unsatisfactory young man.”

“Did you think he
was
unsatisfactory?”

“From whose point of view?”

“Not from the girl's point of view, I suppose.”

“The girl who came to see me I am sure would have been highly delighted with him.”

“Did he look very awful?”

“He looked very beautiful,” said Hercule Poirot.

“Beautiful?” said Mrs. Oliver. “I don't know that I
like
beautiful young men.”

“Girls do,” said Poirot.

“Yes, you're quite right. They like beautiful young men. I don't mean good-looking young men or smart-looking young men or well-dressed or well-washed looking young men. I mean they either like young men looking as though they were just going on in a Restoration comedy, or else very dirty young men looking as though they were just going to take some awful tramp's job.”

“It seemed that he also did not know where the girl is now—”

“Or else he wasn't admitting it.”

“Perhaps. He had gone down there. Why? He was actually in the house. He had taken the trouble to walk in without anyone seeing him. Again why? For what reason? Was he looking for the girl? Or was he looking for something else?”

“You think he
was
looking for something?”

“He was looking for something in the girl's room,” said Poirot.

“How do you know? Did you see him there?”

“No, I only saw him coming down the stairs, but I found a very nice little piece of damp mud in Norma's room that could have come from his shoe. It is possible that she herself may have asked
him to bring her something from that room—there are a lot of possibilities. There is another girl in that house—and a pretty one—He may have come down there to meet
her.
Yes—many possibilities.”

“What are you going to do next?” demanded Mrs. Oliver.

“Nothing,” said Poirot.

“That's very dull,” said Mrs. Oliver disapprovingly.

“I am going to receive, perhaps, a little information from those I have employed to find it; though it is quite possible that I shall receive nothing at all.”

“But aren't you going to
do
something?”

“Not till the right moment,” said Poirot.

“Well, I shall,” said Mrs. Oliver.

“Pray, pray be very careful,” he implored her.

“What nonsense! What could happen to me?”

“Where there is murder, anything can happen. I tell that to you. I, Poirot.”

I

M
r. Goby sat in a chair. He was a small shrunken little man, so nondescript as to be practically nonexistent.

He looked attentively at the claw foot of an antique table and addressed his remarks to it. He never addressed anybody direct.

“Glad you got the names for me, Mr. Poirot,” he said. “Otherwise, you know, it might have taken a lot of time. As it is, I've got the main facts—and a bit of gossip on the side…Always useful, that. I'll begin at Borodene Mansions, shall I?”

Poirot inclined his head graciously.

“Plenty of porters,” Mr. Goby informed the clock on the chimneypiece. “I started there, used one or two different young men. Expensive, but worth it. Didn't want it thought that there was anyone making any particular inquiries! Shall I use initials, or names?”

“Within these walls you can use the names,” said Poirot.

“Miss Claudia Reece-Holland spoken of as a very nice young
lady. Father an MP. Ambitious man. Gets himself in the news a lot. She's his only daughter. She does secretarial work. Serious girl. No wild parties, no drink, no beatniks. Shares flat with two others. Number two works for the Wedderburn Gallery in Bond Street. Arty type. Whoops it up a bit with the Chelsea set. Goes around to places arranging exhibitions and art shows.

“The third one is
your
one. Not been there long. General opinion is that she's a bit ‘wanting.' Not all there in the top storey. But it's all a bit vague. One of the porters is a gossipy type. Buy him a drink or two and you'll be surprised at the things he'll tell you! Who drinks, and who drugs, and who's having trouble with his income tax, and who keeps his cash behind the cistern. Of course you can't believe it all. Anyway, there was some story about a revolver being fired one night.”

“A revolver fired? Was anyone injured?”

“There seems a bit of doubt as to that. His story is he heard a shot fired one night, and he comes out and there was this girl,
your
girl, standing there with a revolver in her hand. She looked sort of dazed. And then one of the other young ladies—or both of them, in fact—they come running along. And Miss Cary (that's the arty one) says, ‘Norma, what on earth have you done?' and Miss Reece-Holland, she says sharp-like, ‘Shut up, can't you, Frances. Don't be a fool!' and she took the revolver away from your girl and says, ‘Give me that.' She slams it into her handbag and then she notices this chap Micky, and goes over to him and says, laughing-like, ‘That must have startled you, didn't it?' and Micky he says it gave him quite a turn, and she says, ‘You needn't worry. Matter of fact, we'd no idea this thing was loaded. We were just fooling about.' And then she says: ‘Anyway, if anybody asks you questions, tell
them it is quite all right,' and then she says: ‘Come on, Norma,' and took her arm and led her along to the elevator, and they all went up again.

“But Micky said he was a bit doubtful still. He went and had a good look round the courtyard.”

Mr. Goby lowered his eyes and quoted from his notebook:

“‘I'll tell you, I found something, I did! I found some wet patches. Sure as anything I did. Drops of blood they were. I touched them with my finger. I tell you what
I
think. Somebody had been shot—some man as he was running away…I went upstairs and I asked if I could speak to Miss Holland. I says to her: “I think there may have been someone shot, Miss,” I says. “There are some drops of blood in the courtyard.” “Good gracious,” she says, “How ridiculous. I expect, you know,” she says, “it must have been one of the pigeons.” And then she says: “I'm sorry if it gave you a turn. Forget about it,” and she slipped me a five pound note. Five pound note, no less! Well, naturally, I didn't open my mouth after that.'

“And then, after another whisky, he comes out with some more. ‘If you ask me, she took a potshot at that low class young chap that comes to see her. I think she and he had a row and she did her best to shoot him. That's what I think. But least said soonest mended, so I'm not repeating it. If anyone asks me anything I'll say I don't know what they're talking about.'” Mr. Goby paused.

“Interesting,” said Poirot.

“Yes, but it's as likely as not that it's a pack of lies. Nobody else seems to know anything about it. There's a story about a gang of young thugs who came barging into the courtyard one night, and had a bit of a fight—flick-knives out and all that.”

“I see,” said Poirot. “Another possible source of blood in the courtyard.”

“Maybe the girl did have a row with her young man, threatened to shoot him, perhaps. And Micky overheard it and mixed the whole thing up—especially if there was a car backfiring just then.”

“Yes,” said Hercule Poirot, and sighed, “that would account for things quite well.”

Mr. Goby turned over another leaf of his notebook and selected his confidant. He chose an electric radiator.

“Joshua Restarick Ltd. Family firm. Been going over a hundred years. Well thought of in the City. Always very sound. Nothing spectacular. Founded by Joshua Restarick in 1850. Launched out after the first war, with greatly increased investments abroad, mostly South Africa, West Africa and Australia. Simon and Andrew Restarick—the last of the Restaricks. Simon, the elder brother, died about a year ago, no children. His wife had died some years previously. Andrew Restarick seems to have been a restless chap. His heart was never really in the business though everyone says he had plenty of ability. Finally ran off with some woman, leaving his wife and a daughter of five years old. Went to South Africa, Kenya, and various other places. No divorce. His wife died two years ago. Had been an invalid for some time. He travelled about a lot, and wherever he went he seems to have made money. Concessions for minerals mostly. Everything he touched prospered.

“After his brother's death, he seems to have decided it was time to settle down. He'd married again and he thought the right thing to do was to come back and make a home for his daughter. They're living at the moment with his uncle Sir Roderick Horsefield—
uncle by marriage that is. That's only temporary. His wife's looking at houses all over London. Expense no object. They're rolling in money.”

Poirot sighed. “I know,” he said. “What you outline to me is a success story! Everyone makes money! Everybody is of good family and highly respected. Their relations are distinguished. They are well thought of in business circles.

“There is only one cloud in the sky. A girl who is said to be ‘a bit wanting,' a girl who is mixed up with a dubious boyfriend who has been on probation more than once. A girl who may quite possibly have tried to poison her stepmother, and who either suffers from hallucinations, or else has committed a crime! I tell you, none of that accords well with the success story you have brought me.”

Mr. Goby shook his head sadly and said rather obscurely:

“There's one in every family.”

“This Mrs. Restarick is quite a young woman. I presume she is
not
the woman he originally ran away with?”

“Oh no, that bust up quite soon. She was a pretty bad lot by all accounts, and a tartar as well. He was a fool ever to be taken in by her.” Mr. Goby shut his notebook and looked inquiringly at Poirot. “Anything more you want me to do?”

“Yes. I want to know a little more about the late Mrs. Andrew Restarick. She was an invalid, she was frequently in nursing homes. What
kind
of nursing homes? Mental homes?”

“I take your point, Mr. Poirot.”

“And any history of insanity in the family—on either side?”

“I'll see to it, Mr. Poirot.”

Mr. Goby rose to his feet. “Then I'll take leave of you, sir. Good night.”

Poirot remained thoughtful after Mr. Goby had left. He raised and lowered his eyebrows. He wondered, he wondered very much.

Then he rang Mrs. Oliver:

“I told you before,” he said, “to be careful. I repeat that—Be very careful.”

“Careful of what?” said Mrs. Oliver.

“Of yourself. I think there might be danger. Danger to anyone who goes poking about where they are not wanted. There is murder in the air—I do not want it to be yours.”

“Have you had the information you said you might have?”

“Yes,” said Poirot, “I have had a little information. Mostly rumour and gossip, but it seems something happened at Borodene Mansions.”

“What sort of thing?”

“Blood in the courtyard,” said Poirot.

“Really!” said Mrs. Oliver. “That's just like the title of an old-fashioned detective story.
The Stain on the Staircase.
I mean nowadays you say something more like
She Asked for Death.

“Perhaps there may not have been blood in the courtyard. Perhaps it is only what an imaginative, Irish porter imagined.”

“Probably an upset milk bottle,” said Mrs. Oliver. “He couldn't see it at night. What happened?”

Poirot did not answer directly.

“The girl thought she ‘might have committed a murder.' Was that the murder she meant?”

“You mean she
did
shoot someone?”

“One might presume that she did shoot
at
someone, but for all intents and purposes missed them. A few drops of blood…That was all. No body.”

“Oh dear,” said Mrs. Oliver, “it's all very confused. Surely if anyone could still run out of a courtyard, you wouldn't think you'd killed him, would you?”

“C'est difficile,”
said Poirot, and rang off.

II

“I'm worried,” said Claudia Reece-Holland.

She refilled her cup from the coffee percolator. Frances Cary gave an enormous yawn. Both girls were breakfasting in the small kitchen of the flat. Claudia was dressed and ready to start for her day's work. Frances was still in dressing gown and pyjamas. Her black hair fell over one eye.

“I'm worried about Norma,” continued Claudia.

Frances yawned.

“I shouldn't worry if I were you. She'll ring up or turn up sooner or later, I suppose.”

“Will she? You know, Fran, I can't help wondering—”

“I don't see why,” said Frances, pouring herself out more coffee. She sipped it doubtfully. “I mean—Norma's not really our business, is she? I mean, we're not looking after her or spoon-feeding her or anything. She just shares the flat. Why all this motherly solicitude? I certainly wouldn't worry.”

“I daresay
you
wouldn't. You never worry over anything. But it's not the same for you as it is for me.”

“Why isn't it the same? You mean because you're the tenant of the flat or something?”

“Well, I'm in rather a special position, as you might say.”

Frances gave another enormous yawn.

“I was up too late last night,” she said. “At Basil's party. I feel dreadful. Oh well, I suppose black coffee will be helpful. Have some more before I've drunk it all? Basil
would
make us try some new pills—Emerald Dreams. I don't think it's really worth trying all these silly things.”

“You'll be late at your gallery,” said Claudia.

“Oh well, I don't suppose it matters much. Nobody notices or cares.

“I saw David last night,” she added. “He was all dressed up and really looked rather wonderful.”

“Now don't say
you're
falling for him, too, Fran. He really is too
awful.

“Oh, I know
you
think so. You're such a conventional type, Claudia.”

“Not at all. But I cannot say I care for all your arty set. Trying out all these drugs and passing out or getting fighting mad.”

Frances looked amused.

“I'm not a drug fiend, dear—I just like to see what these things are like. And some of the gang are all right. David can paint, you know, if he wants to.”

“David doesn't very often want to, though, does he?”

“You've always got your knife into him, Claudia…You hate him coming here to see Norma. And talking of knives….”

“Well? Talking of knives?”

“I've been worrying,” said Frances slowly, “whether to tell you something or not.”

Claudia glanced at her wristwatch.

“I haven't got time now,” she said. “You can tell me this
evening if you want to tell me something. Anyway, I'm not in the mood. Oh dear,” she sighed, “I wish I knew what to do.”

“About Norma?”

“Yes. I'm wondering if her parents ought to know that
we
don't know where she is….”

“That would be
very
unsporting. Poor Norma, why shouldn't she slope off on her own if she wants to?”

“Well, Norma isn't exactly—” Claudia stopped.

“No, she isn't, is she?
Non compos mentis.
That's what you meant. Have you rung up that terrible place where she works? ‘Homebirds,' or whatever it's called? Oh yes, of course you did. I remember.”

“So where
is
she?” demanded Claudia. “Did David say anything last night?”

“David didn't seem to know. Really, Claudia, I
can't
see that it matters.”

“It matters for me,” said Claudia, “because my boss happens to be her father. Sooner or later, if anything peculiar
has
happened to her, they'll ask me why I didn't mention the fact that she hadn't come home.”

“Yes, I suppose they might pitch on you. But there's no real reason, is there, why Norma should have to report to us every time she's going to be away from here for a day or two. Or even a few nights. I mean, she's not a paying guest or anything. You're not in charge of the girl.”

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