Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.

Thich Nhat Hanh

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Sách Đọc Nhiều
Tác giả: Agatha Christie
Thể loại: Trinh Thám
Biên tập: Yen
Language: English
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Chapter 17 - MR. Rafiel TAKES CHARGE
don't know,” said Miss Marple.
''What do you mean? What have we been talking about for the last twenty minutes?"
“It has occurred to me that I may have been wrong.”
Mr. Rafiel stared at her.
“Scatty after all!” he said disgustedly. “And you sounded so sure of yourself.”
“Oh, I am sure-about the murder. It's the murderer I'm not sure about. You see I've found out that Major Palgrave had more than one murder story-you told me yourself he'd told you one about a kind of Lucrezia Borgia.”
“So he did, at that. But that was quite a different kind of story.”
“I know. And Mrs. Walters said he had one about someone being gassed in a gas oven-”
“But the story he told you-”
Miss Marple allowed herself to interrupt-a thing that did not often happen to Mr. Rafiel.
She spoke with desperate earnestness and only moderate incoherence. “Don't you see-it's so difficult to be sure. The whole point is that-so often-one doesn't listen. Ask Mrs. Walters. She said the same thing. You listen to begin with, and then your attention flags, your mind wanders and suddenly you find you've missed a bit. I just wonder if possibly there may have been a gap-a very small one-between the story he was telling me-about a man-and the moment when he was getting out his wallet and saying: 'Like to see a picture of a murderer'.”
“But you thought it was a picture of the man he had been talking about?”
“I thought so-yes. It never occurred to me that it mightn't have been. But now, how can I be sure?”
Mr. Rafiel looked at her very thoughtfully.
“The trouble with you is” he said, “that you're too conscientious. Great mistake. Make up your mind and don't shilly shally. You didn't shilly shally to begin with. If you ask me, in all this chit-chat you've been having with the parson's sister and the rest of them, you've got hold of something that's unsettled you.”
“Perhaps you're right.”
“Well, cut it out for the moment. Let's go ahead with what you had to begin with. Because, nine times out of ten, one's original judgements are right-or so I've found. We've got three suspects. Let's take 'em out and have a good look at them. Any preference?”
“I really haven't,” said Miss Marple, “all three of them seem so very unlikely.”
“We'll take Greg first,” said Mr. Rafiel. “Can't stand the fellow. Doesn't make him a murderer, though. Still, there are one or two points against him. Those blood pressure tablets belonged to him. Nice and handy to make use of.”
“That would be a little obvious, wouldn't it?” Miss Marple objected.
“I don't know that it would,” said Mr. Rafiel. “After all, the main thing was to do something quickly, and he'd got the tablets. Hadn't much time to go looking round for tablets that somebody else might have. Let's say it's Greg. All right. If he wanted to put his dear wife Lucky out of the way-(Good job, too, I'd say. In fact I'm in sympathy with him)-I can't actually see his motive. From all accounts he's rich. Inherited money from his first wife who had pots of it. He qualifies on that as a possible wife murderer all right. But that's over and done with. He got away with it. But Lucky was his first wife's poor relation. No money there, so if he wants to put her out of the way it must be in order to marry somebody else. Any gossip going around about that?”
Miss Marple shook her head. “Not that I have heard. He-er-has a very gallant manner with all the ladies.”
“Well, that's a nice, old-fashioned way of putting it,” said Mr. Rafiel. “All right, he's a stoat. He makes passes. Not enough! We want more than that. Let's go on to Edward Hillingdon. Now there's a dark horse, if ever there was one.”
“He is not, I think, a happy man,” offered Miss Marple.
Mr. Rafiel looked at her thoughtfully.
“Do you think a murderer ought to be a happy man?”
Miss Marple coughed. “Well, they usually have been in my experience.”
“I don't suppose your experience has gone very far,” said Mr. Rafiel.
In this assumption, as Miss Marple could have told him, he was wrong. But she forbore to contest his statement. Gentlemen, she knew, did not like to be put right in their facts.
“I rather fancy Hillingdon myself,” said Mr. Rafiel. “I've an idea that there is something a bit odd going on between him and his wife. You noticed it at all?”
“Oh yes,” said Miss Marple, “I have noticed it. Their behaviour is perfect in public, of course, but that one would expect.”
“You probably know more about those sort of people than I would,” said Mr. Rafiel. “Very well, then, everything is in perfectly good taste but it's a probability that, in a gentlemanly way, Edward Hillingdon is contemplating doing away with Evelyn Hillingdon. Do you agree?”
“If so,” said Miss Marple, “there must be another woman.”
“But what woman?”
Miss Marple shook her head in a dissatisfied manner.
“I can't help feeling-I really can't-that it's not all quite as simple as that.”
“Well, who shall we consider next-Jackson? We leave me out of it.”
Miss Marple smiled for the first time.
“And why do we leave you out of it, Mr. Rafiel?”
“Because if you want to discuss the possibilities of my being a murderer you'd have to do it with somebody else. Waste of time talking about it to me. And anyway, I ask you, am I cut out for the part? Helpless, hauled out of bed like a dummy, dressed, wheeled about in a chair, shuffled along for a walk. What earthly chance have I of going and murdering anyone?”
“Probably as good a chance as anyone else,” said Miss Marple vigorously.
“And how do you make that out?”
“Well, you would agree yourself, I think, that you have brains?”
“Of course I've got brains,” declared Mr. Rafiel. “A good deal more than anybody else in this community, I'd say.”
“And having brains,” went on Miss Marple, “would enable you to overcome the physical difficulties of being a murderer.”
“It would take some doing!”
“Yes,” said Miss Marple, “it would take some doing. But then, I think, Mr. Rafiel, you would enjoy that.”
Mr. Rafiel stared at her for quite a long time and then he suddenly laughed.
“You've got a nerve!” he said. “Not quite the gentle fluffy old lady you look, are you? So you really think I'm a murderer?”
“No,” said Miss Marple, “I do not.”
“And why?”
“Well, really, I think just because you have got brains. Having brains, you can get most things you want, without having recourse to murder. Murder is stupid.”
“And anyway who the devil should I want to murder?”
“That would be a very interesting question,” said Miss Marple. “I have not yet had the pleasure of sufficient conversation with you to evolve a theory as to that.”
Mr. Rafiel's smile broadened.
“Conversations with you might be dangerous,” he said.
“Conversations are always dangerous, if you have something to hide,” said Miss Marple.
“You may be right. Let's get on to Jackson. What do you think of Jackson?”
“It is difficult for me to say. I have not had the opportunity really of any conversation with him.”
“So you've no views on the subject?”
“He reminds me a little,” said Miss Marple reflectively, “of a young man in the Town Clerk's office near where I live, Jonas Parry.”
“And?” Mr. Rafiel asked and paused.
“He was not,” said Miss Marple, “very satisfactory.”
“Jackson's not wholly satisfactory either. He suits me all right. He's first class at his job, and he doesn't mind being sworn at. He knows he's damn well paid and so he puts up with things. I wouldn't employ him in a position of trust, but I don't have to trust him. Maybe his past is blameless, maybe it isn't. His references were all right but I discern-shall I say, a note of reserve. Fortunately, I'm not a man who has any guilty secrets, so I'm not a subject for blackmail.”
“No secrets?” said Miss Marple, thoughtfully. “Surely, Mr. Rafiel, you have business secrets?”
“Not where Jackson can get at them. No. Jackson is a smooth article, one might say, but I really don't see him as a murderer. I'd say that wasn't his line at all.”
He paused a minute and then said suddenly, “Do you know, if one stands back and takes a good look at all this fantastic business, Major Palgrave and his ridiculous stories and all the rest of it, the emphasis is entirely wrong. I'm the person who ought to be murdered.”
Miss Marple looked at him in some surprise.
“Proper type casting,” explained Mr. Rafiel. “Who's the victim in murder stories? Elderly men with lots of money.”
“And lots of people with a good reason for wishing him out of the way, so as to get that money,” said Miss Marple. “Is that true also?”
“Well-” Mr. Rafiel considered, “I can count up to five or six men in London who wouldn't burst into tears if they read my obituary in The Times. But they wouldn't go as far to do anything to bring about my demise. After all, why should they? I'm expected to die any day. In fact the bug-blighters are astonished that I've lasted so long. The doctors are surprised too.”
“You have of course, a great will to live,” said Miss Marple.
“You think that's odd, I suppose,” said Mr. Rafiel.
Miss Marple shook her head. “Oh no,” she said, “I think it's quite natural. Life is more worth living, more full of interest when you are likely to lose it. It shouldn't be, perhaps, but it is. When you're young and strong and healthy, and life stretches ahead of you, living isn't really important at all. It's young people who commit suicide easily, out of despair from love, sometimes from sheer anxiety and worry. But old people know how valuable life is and how interesting.”
“Hah!” said Mr. Rafiel, snorting. “Listen to a couple of old crocks.”
“Well, what I said is true, isn't it?” demanded Miss Marple.
“Oh, yes,” said Mr. Rafiel, “it's true enough. But don't you think I'm right when I say that I ought to be cast as the victim?”
“It depends on who has reason to gain by your death,” said Miss Marple.
“Nobody, really,” said Mr. Rafiel. “Apart, as I've said, from my competitors in the business world who, as I have also said, can count comfortably on my being out of it before very long. I'm not such a fool as to leave a lot of money divided up among my relations. Precious little they'd get of it after Government had taken practically the lot. Oh no, I've attended to all that years ago. Settlements, trusts, and all the rest of it.”
“Jackson, for instance, wouldn't profit by your death?”
“He wouldn't get a penny,” said Mr. Rafiel cheerfully. “I pay him double the salary that he'd get from anyone else. That's because he has to put up with my bad temper, and he knows quite well that he will be the loser when I die.”
“And Mrs. Walters?”
“The same goes for Esther. She's a good girl. First-class secretary, intelligent, good-tempered, understands my ways, doesn't turn a hair if I fly off the handle, couldn't care less if I insult her. Behaves like a nice nursery governess in charge of an outrageous and obstreperous child. She irritates me a bit sometimes, but who doesn't? There's nothing outstanding about her. She's rather a commonplace young woman in many ways, but I couldn't have anyone who suited me better. She's had a lot of trouble in her life. Married a man who wasn't much good. I'd say she never had much judgement when it came to men. Some women haven't. They fall for anyone who tells them a hard luck story. Always convinced that all the man needs is proper female understanding. That, once married to her, he'll pull up his socks and make a go of life! But of course that type of man never does. Anyway, fortunately her unsatisfactory husband died, drank too much at a party one night and stepped in front of a bus. Esther had a daughter to support and she went back to her secretarial job. She's been with me five years. I made it quite clear to her from the start that she need have no expectations from me in the event of my death. I paid her from the start a very large salary, and that salary I've augmented by as much as a quarter as much again each year. However decent and honest people are, one should never trust anybody. That's why I told Esther quite clearly that she'd nothing to hope for from my death. Every year I live she'll get a bigger salary. If she puts most of that aside every year-and that's what I think she has done-she'll be quite a well-to-do woman by the time I kick the bucket. I've made myself responsible for her daughter's schooling and I've put a sum in trust for the daughter which she'll get when she comes of age. So Mrs. Esther Walters is very comfortably placed. My death, let me tell you, would mean a serious financial loss to her.” He looked very hard at Miss Marple. “She fully realises all that. She's very sensible, Esther is.”
“Do she and Jackson get on?” asked Miss Marple.
Mr. Rafiel shot a quick glance at her. “Noticed something, have you?” he said. “Yes, I think Jackson's done a bit of tomcatting around, with an eye in her direction, especially lately. He's a good-looking chap, of course, but he hasn't cut any ice in that direction. For one thing, there's class distinction. She's just a cut above him. Not very much. If she was really a cut above him it wouldn't matter, but the lower middle class-they're very particular. Her mother was a schoolteacher and her father a bank clerk. No, she won't make a fool of herself about Jackson. Dare say he's after her little nest egg, but he won't get it.”
“Hush-she's coming now!” said Miss Marple.
They both looked at Esther Walters as she came along the hotel path towards them.
“She's quite a good-looking girl, you know,” said Mr. Rafiel, “but not an atom of glamour. I don't know why, she's quite nicely turned out.”
Miss Marple sighed, a sigh that any woman will give however old at what might be considered wasted opportunities. What was lacking in Esther had been called by so many names during Miss Marple's span of existence, “Not really attractive to men.” “No S.A.” “Lacks Come-hither in her eye.” Fair hair, good complexion, hazel eyes, quite a good figure, pleasant smile, but lacking that something that makes a man's head turn when he passes a woman in the street.
“She ought to get married again,” said Miss Marple, lowering her voice.
“Of course she ought. She'd make a man a good wife.”
Esther Walters joined them and Mr. Rafiel said, in a slightly artificial voice. “So there you are at last! What's been keeping you?”
“Everyone seemed to be sending cables this morning,” said Esther. “What with that, and people trying to check out-”
“Trying to check out, are they? A result of this murder business?”
“I suppose so. Poor Tim Kendal is worried to death.”
“And well he might be. Bad luck for that young couple, I must say.”
“I know. I gather it was rather a big undertaking for them to take on this place. They've been worried about making a success of it. They were doing very well, too.”
“They were doing a good job,” agreed Mr. Rafiel. “He's very capable and a damned hard worker. She's a very nice girl-attractive too. They've both worked like blacks, though that's an odd term to use out here, for blacks don't work themselves to death at all, so far as I can see. Was looking at a fellow shinning up a coconut tree to get his breakfast, then he goes to sleep for the rest of the day. Nice life.”
He added, “We've been discussing the murder here.”
Esther Walters looked slightly startled. She turned her head towards Miss Marple.
“I've been wrong about her,” said Mr. Rafiel, with characteristic frankness. “Never been much of a one for the old pussies. All knitting wool and tittle-tattle. But this one's got something. Eyes and ears, and she uses them.”
Esther Walters looked apologetically at Miss Marple, but Miss Marple did not appear to take offence.
“That's really meant to be a compliment, you know,” Esther explained.
“I quite realise that,” said Miss Marple. “I realise, too, that Mr. Rafiel is privileged, or thinks he is.”
“What do you mean-privileged?” asked Mr. Rafiel.
“To be rude if you want to be rude,” said Miss Marple.
“Have I been rude?” said Mr. Rafiel, surprised. “I'm sorry if I've offended you.”
“You haven't offended me,” said Miss Marple, “I make allowances.”
“Now, don't be nasty. Esther, get a chair and bring it here. Maybe you can help.”
Esther walked a few steps to the balcony of the bungalow and brought over a light basket chair.
“We'll go on with our consultation,” said Mr. Rafiel. “We started with old Palgrave, deceased, and his eternal stories.”
“Oh dear,” sighed Esther. “I'm afraid I used to escape from him whenever I could.”
“Miss Marple was more patient,” said Mr. Rafiel. “Tell me, Esther, did he ever tell you a story about a murderer?”
“Oh yes,” said Esther. “Several times.”
“What was it exactly? Let's have your recollection.”
“Well-” Esther paused to think. “The trouble is,” she said apologetically, “I didn't really listen very closely. You see, it was rather like that terrible story about the lion in Rhodesia which used to go on and on. One did get rather in the habit of not listening.”
“Well, tell us what you do remember.”
“I think it arose out of some murder case that had been in the papers. Major Palgrave said that he'd had an experience not every person had had. He'd actually met a murderer face to face.”
“Met?” Mr. Rafiel exclaimed. “Did he actually use the word 'Met'?”
Esther looked confused. “I think so.” She was doubtful. “Or he may have said, 'I can point you out a murderer'.”
“Well, which was it? There's a difference.”
“I can't really be sure... I think he said he'd show me a picture of someone.”
“That's better.”
“And then he talked a lot about Lucrezia Borgia.”
“Never mind about Lucrezia Borgia. We know all about her.”
“He talked about poisoners and that Lucrezia was very beautiful and had red hair. He said there were probably far more women poisoners going about the world than anyone knew.”
“That I fear is quite likely,” said Miss Marple.
“And he talked about poison being a woman's weapon.”
“Seems to have been wandering from the point a bit,” said Mr. Rafiel.
“Well, of course, he always did wander from the point in his stories. And then one used to stop listening and just say 'Yes' and 'Really?' and 'You don't say so'.”
“What about this picture he was going to show you?”
“I don't remember. It may have been something he'd seen in the paper-”
“He didn't actually show you a snapshot?”
“A snapshot? No.” She shook her head. “I'm quite sure of that. He did say that she was a good-looking woman, and you'd never think she was a murderer to look at her.”
“There you are,” exclaimed Miss Marple. “It makes it all so confusing.”
“He was talking about a woman?” Mr. Rafiel asked.
“Oh yes.”
“The snapshot was a snapshot of a woman?”
“It can't have been!”
“But it was,” Esther persisted. “He said 'She's here in this island. I'll point her out, and then I'll tell you the whole story.'”
Mr. Rafiel swore. In saying what he thought of the late Major Palgrave he did not mince his words.
“The probabilities are,” he finished, “that not a word of anything he said was true!”
“One does begin to wonder,” Miss Marple murmured.
“So there we are,” said Mr. Rafiel. “The old booby started telling you hunting tales. Pig sticking, tiger shooting, elephant hunting, narrow escapes from lions. One or two of them might have been fact. Several of them were fiction, and others had happened to somebody else! Then he gets on to the subject of murder and he tells one murder story to cap another murder story. And what's more he tells them all as if they'd happened to him. Ten to one most of them were a hash up of what he'd read in the paper, or seen on T.V..”
He turned accusingly on Esther. “You admit that you weren't listening closely. Perhaps you misunderstood what he was saying.”
“I'm certain he was talking about a woman,” said Esther obstinately, “because of course I wondered who it was.”
''Who do you think it was?" asked Miss Marple.
Esther flushed and looked slightly embarrassed. “Oh, I didn't really- I mean, I wouldn't like to-”
Miss Marple did not insist. The presence of Mr. Rafiel, she thought, was inimical to her finding out exactly what suppositions Esther Walters had made. That could only be cosily brought out in a tкte-а-tкte between two women. And there was, of course, the possibility that Esther Walters was lying. Naturally, Miss Marple did not suggest this aloud. She registered it as a possibility but she was not inclined to believe in it. For one thing she did not think that Esther Walters was a liar (though one never knew) and for another, she could see no point in such a lie.
“But you say,” Mr. Rafiel was now turning upon Miss Marple, “you say that he told you this yam about a murderer and that he then said he had a picture of him which he was going to show you.”
“I thought so, yes.”
“You thought so? You were sure enough to begin with!”
Miss Marple retorted with spirit. “It is never easy to repeat a conversation and be entirely accurate in what the other party to it has said. One is always inclined to jump at what you think they meant. Then, afterwards, you put actual words into their mouths. Major Palgrave told me this story, yes. He told me that the man who told it to him, this doctor, had shown him a snapshot of the murderer; but if I am to be quite honest I must admit that what he actually said to me was 'Would you like to see a snapshot of a murderer?' and naturally I assumed that it was the same snapshot he had been talking about. That it was the snapshot of that particular murderer. But I have to admit that it is possible-only remotely possible, but still possible-that by an association of ideas in his mind he leaped from the snapshot he had been shown in the past, to a snapshot he had taken recently of someone here whom he was convinced was a murderer.”
“Women!” snorted Mr. Rafiel, in exasperation, “You're all the same, the whole blinking lot of you! Can't be accurate. You're never exactly sure of what a thing was. And now,” he added irritably, “where does that leave us?” He snorted. “Evelyn Hillingdon, or Greg's wife. Lucky? The whole thing is a mess.”
There was a slight apologetic cough.
Arthur Jackson was standing at Mr. Rafiel's elbow. He had come so noiselessly that nobody had noticed him.
“Time for your massage, sir,” he said.
Mr. Rafiel displayed immediate temper. “What do you mean by sneaking up on me in that way and making me jump? I never heard you.”
“Very sorry, sir.”
“I don't think I'll have any massage today. It never does me a damn bit of good.”
“Oh come sir, you mustn't say that.” Jackson was full of professional cheerfulness. “You'd soon notice it if you left it off.”
He wheeled the chair deftly round.
Miss Marple rose to her feet, smiled at Esther and went down to the beach.
A Caribbean Mystery A Caribbean Mystery - Agatha Christie A Caribbean Mystery