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The Unexpected Guest

The Unexpected Guest
The Unexpected Guest Agatha Christie Charles Osborne A young man, broken down in the fog, witnesses a murder he is asked to conceal… A full-length novel adapted by Charles Osborne from Agatha Christie’s acclaimed play.When a stranger runs his car into a ditch in dense fog in South Wales and makes his way to an isolated house, he discovers a woman standing over the dead body of her wheelchair-bound husband, gun in her hand. She admits to murder, and the unexpected guest offers to help her concoct a cover story.But is it possible that Laura Warwick did not commit the murder after all? If so, who is she shielding? The victim’s young half-brother or his dying matriarchal mother? Laura’s lover? Perhaps the father of the little boy killed in an accident for which Warwick was responsible? The house seems full of possible suspects…THE UNEXPECTED GUEST is considered to be one of the finest of Christie’s plays. Hailed as ‘another Mousetrap’ when it opened on 12 August 1958 in the West End, it ran for 604 performances over the succeeding 18 months and has been staged many times around the world over the last 40 years. Copyright (#ulink_f2f7dc4c-49b4-5c19-a022-7fec4e02bd8b) Harper an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 1999 The Unexpected Guest™ is a trade mark of Agatha Christie Limited and Agatha Christie and the Agatha Christie Signature are registered trade marks of Agatha Christie Limited in the UK and elsewhere. Copyright © 1999 Agatha Christie Limited. All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com) Cover by juliejenkinsdesign.com (http://juliejenkinsdesign.com) © HarperCollins/Agatha Christie Ltd 2017 Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Source ISBN: 9780008196677 Ebook Edition © May 2017 ISBN: 9780007423033 Version: 2017-03-30 Contents Cover (#u16bc1909-13ac-5219-afe0-acb25e55d495) Title Page (#u282b8b40-feda-5e91-b1bd-d2f3c7233f0e) Copyright (#uc0da1f04-6c17-510d-ac46-cb61d18490c1) Chapter 1 (#u0e86fa6a-bdcb-5906-bbb8-5c5e8270c8c9) Chapter 2 (#u29497e0f-fa01-5f8a-b64b-cf43cd38cb43) Chapter 3 (#uf6d15dd5-a1d6-50a9-ab09-de7cc5f81514) Chapter 4 (#uba75fa1a-c065-59bc-9401-fec11414f57d) Chapter 5 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 6 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 7 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 8 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 9 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 10 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 11 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 12 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 13 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 14 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 15 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 16 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 17 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 18 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 19 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 20 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 21 (#litres_trial_promo) Postscript (#litres_trial_promo) The Unexpected Guest (#litres_trial_promo) Also by Agatha Christie (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_aacc52fa-53f2-5be0-b76c-bb985001bd31) It was shortly before midnight on a chilly November evening, and swirls of mist obscured parts of the dark, narrow, tree-lined country road in South Wales, not far from the Bristol Channel whence a foghorn sounded its melancholy boom automatically every few moments. Occasionally, the distant barking of a dog could be heard, and the melancholy call of a night-bird. What few houses there were along the road, which was little better than a lane, were about a half-mile apart. On one of its darkest stretches the road turned, passing a handsome, three-storey house standing well back from its spacious garden, and it was at this spot that a car sat, its front wheels caught in the ditch at the side of the road. After two or three attempts to accelerate out of the ditch, the driver of the car must have decided it was no use persevering, and the engine fell silent. A minute or two passed before the driver emerged from the vehicle, slamming the door behind him. He was a somewhat thick-set, sandy-haired man of about thirty-five, with an outdoor look about him, dressed in a rough tweed suit and dark overcoat and wearing a hat. Using a torch to find his way, he began to walk cautiously across the lawn towards the house, stopping halfway to survey the eighteenth-century building’s elegant façade. The house appeared to be in total darkness as he approached the French windows on that side of the edifice which faced him. After turning to look back at the lawn he had crossed, and the road beyond it, he walked right up to the French windows, ran his hands over the glass, and peered in. Unable to discern any movement within, he knocked on the window. There was no response, and after a pause he knocked again much louder. When he realized that his knocking was not having any effect, he tried the handle. Immediately, the window opened and he stumbled into a room that was in darkness. Inside the room, he paused again, as though attempting to discern any sound or movement. Then, ‘Hello,’ he called. ‘Is anyone there?’ Flashing his torch around the room which revealed itself to be a well-furnished study, its walls lined with books, he saw in the centre of the room a handsome middle-aged man sitting in a wheelchair facing the French windows, with a rug over his knees. The man appeared to have fallen asleep in his chair. ‘Oh, hello,’ said the intruder. ‘I didn’t mean to startle you. So sorry. It’s this confounded fog. I’ve just run my car off the road into a ditch, and I haven’t the faintest idea where I am. Oh, and I’ve left the window open. I’m so sorry.’ Continuing to speak apologetically as he moved, he turned back to the French windows, shut them, and closed the curtains. ‘Must have run off the main road somewhere,’ he explained. ‘I’ve been driving round these topsy-turvy lanes for an hour or more.’ There was no reply. ‘Are you asleep?’ the intruder asked, as he faced the man in the wheelchair again. Still receiving no answer, he shone his torch on the face of the chair’s occupant, and then stopped abruptly. The man in the chair neither opened his eyes nor moved. As the intruder bent over him, touching his shoulder as though to awaken him, the man’s body slumped down into a huddled position in the chair. ‘Good God!’ the man holding the torch exclaimed. He paused momentarily, as though undecided what to do next, and then, shining his torch about the room, found a light switch by a door, and crossed the room to switch it on. The light on a desk came on. The intruder put his torch on the desk and, looking intently at the man in the wheelchair, circled around him. Noticing another door with a light switch by it, he went across and flicked the switch, thus turning on the lamps on two occasional tables strategically placed around the room. Then, taking a step towards the man in the wheelchair, he gave a start as he suddenly noticed for the first time an attractive, fair-haired woman of about thirty, wearing a cocktail dress and matching jacket, standing by a book-lined recess on the opposite side of the room. With her arms hanging limply by her sides, she neither moved nor spoke. It seemed as though she was trying not even to breathe. There was a moment’s silence while they stared at each other. Then the man spoke. ‘He—he’s dead!’ he exclaimed. Completely without expression, the woman answered him. ‘Yes.’ ‘You already knew?’ asked the man. ‘Yes.’ Cautiously approaching the body in the wheelchair, the man said, ‘He’s been shot. Through the head. Who—?’ He paused as the woman slowly brought her right hand up from where it had been hidden by the folds of her dress. In her hand was a revolver. The man drew in his breath sharply. When it seemed that she was not threatening him with it, he approached her, and gently took the gun from her. ‘You shot him?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ the woman replied, after a pause. The man moved away from her, and put the gun on a table by the wheelchair. For a moment he stood looking at the dead body, and then gazed uncertainly around the room. ‘The telephone is over there,’ said the woman, nodding towards the desk. ‘Telephone?’ the man echoed. He sounded startled. ‘If you want to ring up the police,’ the woman continued, still speaking in the same detached, expressionless manner. The stranger stared at her as though unable to make her out. Then, ‘A few minutes one way or the other won’t make any difference,’ he said. ‘They’ll have a bit of a job getting here in this fog anyway. I’d like to know a little more—’ He broke off and looked at the body. ‘Who is he?’ ‘My husband,’ replied the woman. She paused, and then continued, ‘His name is Richard Warwick. I am Laura Warwick.’ The man continued to stare at her. ‘I see,’ he murmured finally. ‘Hadn’t you better—sit down?’ Laura Warwick moved slowly and somewhat unsteadily to a sofa. Looking around the room, the man asked, ‘Can I get you a—drink—or something? It must have been a shock.’ ‘Shooting my husband?’ Her tone was drily ironic. Appearing to regain his poise somewhat, the man attempted to match her expression. ‘I should imagine so, yes. Or was it just fun and games?’ ‘It was fun and games,’ replied Laura Warwick inscrutably as she sat down on the sofa. The man frowned, looking puzzled. ‘But I would like—that drink,’ she continued. The man took off his hat and threw it onto an armchair, then poured brandy from a decanter on the table close to the wheelchair and handed her the glass. She drank and, after a pause, the man said, ‘Now, suppose you tell me all about it.’ Laura Warwick looked up at him. ‘Hadn’t you better ring the police?’ she asked. ‘All in good time. Nothing wrong with having a cosy little chat first, is there?’ He took off his gloves, stuffed them into his overcoat pocket, and started unbuttoning his coat. Laura Warwick’s poise began to break. ‘I don’t—’ she began. She paused and then continued, ‘Who are you? How did you happen to come here tonight?’ Without giving him time to answer, she went on, her voice now almost a shout, ‘For God’s sake, tell me who you are!’ CHAPTER 2 (#ulink_bb116490-7642-5f94-9d51-f6e66a964b4a) ‘By all means,’ the man replied. He ran a hand through his hair, looked around the room for a moment as though wondering where or how to begin, and then continued, ‘My name’s Michael Starkwedder. I know it’s an unusual name.’ He spelt it out for her. ‘I’m an engineer. I work for Anglo-Iranian, and I’m just back in this country from a term in the Persian Gulf.’ He paused, seeming briefly to be remembering the Middle East, or perhaps trying to decide how much detail to go into, then shrugged his shoulders. ‘I’ve been down here in Wales for a couple of days, looking up old landmarks. My mother’s family came from this part of the world and I thought I might buy a little house.’ He shook his head, smiling. ‘The last two hours—more like three, I should think—I’ve been hopelessly lost. Driving round all the twisting lanes in South Wales, and ending up in a ditch! Thick fog everywhere. I found a gate, groped my way to this house, hoping to get hold of a telephone or perhaps, if I was lucky, get put up for the night. I tried the handle of the French window there, found it wasn’t locked, so I walked in. Whereupon I find—’ He gestured towards the wheelchair, indicating the body slumped in it. Laura Warwick looked up at him, her eyes expressionless. ‘You knocked on the window first—several times,’ she murmured. ‘Yes, I did. Nobody answered.’ Laura caught her breath. ‘No, I didn’t answer.’ Her voice was now almost a whisper. Starkwedder looked at her, as though trying to make her out. He took a step towards the body in the wheelchair, then turned back to the woman on the sofa. To encourage her into speaking again, he repeated, ‘As I say, I tried the handle, the window wasn’t locked, so I came in.’ Laura stared down into her brandy glass. She spoke as though she were quoting. ‘“The door opens and the unexpected guest comes in.”’ She shivered slightly. ‘That saying always frightened me when I was a child. “The unexpected guest”.’ Throwing her head back she stared up at her unexpected visitor, and exclaimed with sudden intensity, ‘Oh, why don’t you ring up the police and get it over?’ Starkwedder walked over to the body in the chair. ‘Not yet,’ he said. ‘In a moment, perhaps. Can you tell me why you shot him?’ The note of irony returned to Laura’s voice as she answered him. ‘I can give you some excellent reasons. For one thing, he drank. He drank excessively. For another, he was cruel. Unbearably cruel. I’ve hated him for years.’ Catching the sharp look Starkwedder gave her at this, she continued angrily, ‘Oh, what do you expect me to say?’ ‘You’ve hated him for years?’ Starkwedder murmured as though to himself. He looked thoughtfully at the body. ‘But something—something special—happened tonight, didn’t it?’ he asked. ‘You’re quite right,’ Laura replied emphatically. ‘Something special indeed happened tonight. And so—I took the gun off the table from where it was lying beside him, and—and I shot him. It was as simple as that.’ She threw an impatient glance at Starkwedder as she continued, ‘Oh, what’s the good of talking about it? You’ll only have to ring up the police in the end. There’s no way out.’ Her voice dropped as she repeated, ‘No way out!’ Starkwedder looked at her from across the room. ‘It’s not quite as simple as you think,’ he observed. ‘Why isn’t it simple?’ asked Laura. Her voice sounded weary. Approaching her, Starkwedder spoke slowly and deliberately. ‘It isn’t so easy to do what you’re urging me to do,’ he said. ‘You’re a woman. A very attractive woman.’ Laura looked up at him sharply. ‘Does that make a difference?’ she asked. Starkwedder’s voice sounded almost cheerful as he replied, ‘Theoretically, certainly not. But in practical terms, yes.’ He took his overcoat over to the recess, put it on the armchair, and returned to stand looking down at the body of Richard Warwick. ‘Oh, you’re talking about chivalry,’ Laura observed listlessly. ‘Well, call it curiosity if you prefer,’ said Starkwedder. ‘I’d like to know what this is all about.’ Laura paused before replying. Then, ‘I’ve told you,’ was all she said. Starkwedder walked slowly around the wheelchair containing the body of Laura’s husband, as though fascinated by it. ‘You’ve told me the bare facts, perhaps,’ he admitted. ‘But nothing more than the bare facts.’ ‘And I’ve given you my excellent motive,’ Laura replied. ‘There’s nothing more to tell. In any case, why should you believe what I tell you? I could make up any story I liked. You’ve only got my word for it that Richard was a cruel beast and that he drank and that he made life miserable for me—and that I hated him.’ ‘I can accept the last statement without question, I think,’ said Starkwedder. ‘After all, there’s a certain amount of evidence to support it.’ Approaching the sofa again, he looked down at Laura. ‘All the same, it’s a bit drastic, don’t you think? You say you’ve hated him for years. Why didn’t you leave him? Surely that would have been much simpler.’ Laura’s voice was hesitant as she replied, ‘I’ve—I’ve no money of my own.’ ‘My dear girl,’ said Starkwedder, ‘if you could have proved cruelty and habitual drunkenness and all the rest of it, you could have got a divorce—or separation—and then you’d get alimony or whatever it is they call it.’ He paused, waiting for an answer. Finding it difficult to reply, Laura rose and, keeping her back to him, went across to the table to put her glass down. ‘Have you got children?’ Starkwedder asked her. ‘No—no, thank God,’ Laura replied. ‘Well, then, why didn’t you leave him?’ Confused, Laura turned to face her questioner. ‘Well—’ she said finally, ‘well—you see—now I shall inherit all his money.’ ‘Oh no, you won’t,’ Starkwedder informed her. ‘The law won’t allow you to profit as the result of a crime.’ Taking a step towards Laura, he asked, ‘Or did you think that—?’ He hesitated, and then continued, ‘What did you think?’ ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ Laura told him. ‘You’re not a stupid woman,’ Starkwedder said, looking at her. ‘Even if you did inherit his money, it wouldn’t be much good to you if you were going to be imprisoned for life.’ Settling himself comfortably in the armchair, he added, ‘Supposing that I hadn’t come knocking at the window just now? What were you going to do?’ ‘Does it matter?’ ‘Perhaps not—but I’m interested. What was your story going to be, if I hadn’t come barging in and caught you here red-handed? Were you going to say it was an accident? Or suicide?’ ‘I don’t know,’ Laura exclaimed. She sounded distraught. Crossing to the sofa, she sat facing away from Starkwedder. ‘I’ve no idea,’ she added. ‘I tell you I—I haven’t had time to think.’ ‘No,’ he agreed. ‘No, perhaps not—I don’t think it was a premeditated affair. I think it was an impulse. In fact, I think it was probably something your husband said. Was that it?’ ‘It doesn’t matter, I tell you,’ Laura replied. ‘What did he say?’ Starkwedder insisted. ‘What was it?’ Laura gazed at him steadily. ‘That is something I shall never tell anybody,’ she exclaimed. Starkwedder went over to the sofa and stood behind her. ‘You’ll be asked it in court,’ he informed her. Her expression was grim as she replied, ‘I shan’t answer. They can’t make me answer.’ ‘But your counsel will have to know,’ said Starkwedder. Leaning over the sofa and looking at her earnestly, he continued, ‘It might make all the difference.’ Laura turned to face him. ‘Oh, don’t you see?’ she exclaimed. ‘Don’t you understand? I’ve no hope. I’m prepared for the worst.’ ‘What, just because I came in through that window? If I hadn’t—’ ‘But you did!’ Laura interrupted him. ‘Yes, I did,’ he agreed. ‘And consequently you’re for it. Is that what you think?’ She made no reply. ‘Here,’ he said as he handed her a cigarette and took one himself. ‘Now, let’s go back a little. You’ve hated your husband for a long time, and tonight he said something that just pushed you over the edge. You snatched up the gun that was lying beside—’ He stopped suddenly, staring at the gun on the table. ‘Why was he sitting here with a gun beside him, anyway? It’s hardly usual.’ ‘Oh, that,’ said Laura. ‘He used to shoot at cats.’ Starkwedder looked at her, surprised. ‘Cats?’ he asked. ‘Oh, I suppose I shall have to do some explaining,’ said Laura resignedly. CHAPTER 3 (#ulink_f26b994b-e171-5987-b474-59500518f5f2) Starkwedder looked at her with a somewhat bemused expression. ‘Well?’ he prompted. Laura took a deep breath. Then, staring straight ahead of her, she began to speak. ‘Richard used to be a big-game hunter,’ she said. ‘That was where we first met—in Kenya. He was a different sort of person then. Or perhaps his good qualities showed, and not his bad ones. He did have good qualities, you know. Generosity and courage. Supreme courage. He was a very attractive man to women.’ She looked up suddenly, seeming to be aware of Starkwedder for the first time. Returning her gaze, he lit her cigarette with his lighter, and then his own. ‘Go on,’ he urged her. ‘We married soon after we met,’ Laura continued. ‘Then, two years later, he had a terrible accident—he was mauled by a lion. He was lucky to escape alive, but he’s been a semi-cripple ever since, unable to walk properly.’ She leaned back, apparently more relaxed, and Starkwedder moved to a footstool, facing her. Laura took a puff at her cigarette and then exhaled the smoke. ‘They say misfortune improves your character,’ she said. ‘It didn’t improve his. Instead, it developed all his bad points. Vindictiveness, a streak of sadism, drinking too much. He made life pretty impossible for everyone in this house, and we all put up with it because—oh, you know what one says. “So sad for poor Richard being an invalid.” We shouldn’t have put up with it, of course. I see that, now. It simply encouraged him to feel that he was different from other people, and that he could do as he chose without being called to account for it.’ She rose and went across to the table by the armchair to flick ash in the ashtray. ‘All his life,’ she continued, ‘shooting had been the thing Richard liked doing best. So, when we came to live in this house, every night after everyone else had gone to bed, he’d sit here’—she gestured towards the wheelchair—‘and Angell, his—well, valet and general factotum I suppose you’d call him—Angell would bring the brandy and one of Richard’s guns, and put them beside him. Then he’d have the French windows wide open, and he’d sit in here looking out, watching for the gleam of a cat’s eyes, or a stray rabbit, or a dog for that matter. Of course, there haven’t been so many rabbits lately. That disease—what d’you call it?—myxomatosis or whatever—has been killing them off. But he shot quite a lot of cats.’ She took a drag on her cigarette. ‘He shot them in the daytime, too. And birds.’ ‘Didn’t the neighbours ever complain?’ Starkwedder asked her. ‘Oh, of course they did,’ Laura replied as she returned to sit on the sofa. ‘We’ve only lived here for a couple of years, you know. Before that, we lived on the east coast, in Norfolk. One or two household pets were victims of Richard’s there, and we had a lot of complaints. That’s really why we came to live here. It’s very isolated, this house. We’ve only got one neighbour for miles around. But there are plenty of squirrels and birds and stray cats.’ She paused for a moment, and then continued. ‘The main trouble in Norfolk was really because a woman came to call at the house one day, collecting subscriptions for the village fête. Richard sent shots to the right and left of her as she was going away, walking down the drive. She bolted like a hare, he said. He roared with laughter when he told us about it. I remember him saying her fat backside was quivering like a jelly. But she went to the police about it, and there was a terrible row.’ ‘I can well imagine that,’ was Starkwedder’s dry comment. ‘But Richard got away with it all right,’ Laura told him. ‘He had a permit for all his firearms, of course, and he assured the police that he only used them to shoot rabbits. He explained away poor Miss Butterfield by claiming that she was just a nervous old maid who imagined he was shooting at her, which he swore he would never have done. Richard was always plausible. He had no trouble making the police believe him.’ Starkwedder got up from his footstool and went across to Richard Warwick’s body. ‘Your husband seems to have had a rather perverted sense of humour,’ he observed tartly. He looked down at the table beside the wheelchair. ‘I see what you mean,’ he continued. ‘So a gun by his side was a nightly routine. But surely he couldn’t have expected to shoot anything tonight. Not in this fog.’ ‘Oh, he always had a gun put there,’ replied Laura. ‘Every night. It was like a child’s toy. Sometimes he used to shoot into the wall, making patterns. Over there, if you look.’ She indicated the French windows. ‘Down there to the left, behind the curtain.’ Starkwedder went across and lifted the curtain on the left-hand side, revealing a pattern of bullet holes in the panelling. ‘Good heavens, he’s picked out his own initials in the wall. “RW”, done in bullet holes. Remarkable.’ He replaced the curtain, and turned back to Laura. ‘I must admit that’s damned good shooting. Hm, yes. He must have been pretty frightening to live with.’ ‘He was,’ Laura replied emphatically. With almost hysterical vehemence, she rose from the sofa and approached her uninvited guest. ‘Must we go on talking and talking about all this?’ she asked in exasperation. ‘It’s only putting off what’s got to happen in the end. Can’t you realize that you’ve got to ring up the police? You’ve no option. Don’t you see it would be far kinder to just do it now? Or is it that you want me to do it? Is that it? All right, I will.’ She moved quickly to the phone, but Starkwedder came up to her as she was lifting the receiver, and put his hand over hers. ‘We’ve got to talk first,’ he told her. ‘We’ve been talking,’ said Laura. ‘And anyway, there’s nothing to talk about.’ ‘Yes, there is,’ he insisted. ‘I’m a fool, I dare say. But we’ve got to find some way out.’ ‘Some way out? For me?’ asked Laura. She sounded incredulous. ‘Yes. For you.’ He took a few steps away from her, and then turned back to face her. ‘How much courage have you got?’ he asked. ‘Can you lie if necessary—and lie convincingly?’ Laura stared at him. ‘You’re crazy,’ was all she said. ‘Probably,’ Starkwedder agreed. She shook her head in perplexity. ‘You don’t know what you’re doing,’ she told him. ‘I know very well what I’m doing,’ he answered. ‘I’m making myself an accessory after the fact.’ ‘But why?’ asked Laura. ‘Why?’ Starkwedder looked at her for a moment before replying. Then, ‘Yes, why?’ he repeated. Speaking slowly and deliberately, he said, ‘For the simple reason, I suppose, that you’re a very attractive woman, and I don’t like to think of you being shut up in prison for all the best years of your life. Just as horrible as being hanged by the neck until you are dead, in my view. And the situation looks far from promising for you. Your husband was an invalid and a cripple. Any evidence there might be of provocation would rest entirely on your word, a word which you seem extremely unwilling to give. Therefore it seems highly unlikely that a jury would acquit you.’ Laura looked steadily at him. ‘You don’t know me,’ she said. ‘Everything I’ve told you may have been lies.’ ‘It may,’ Starkwedder agreed cheerfully. ‘And perhaps I’m a sucker. But I’m believing you.’ Laura looked away, then sank down on the footstool with her back to him. For a few moments nothing was said. Then, turning to face him, her eyes suddenly alight with hope, she looked at him questioningly, and then nodded almost imperceptibly. ‘Yes,’ she told him, ‘I can lie if I have to.’ ‘Good,’ Starkwedder exclaimed with determination. ‘Now, talk and talk fast.’ He walked over to the table by the wheelchair, flicking ash in the ashtray. ‘In the first place, who exactly is there in this house? Who lives here?’ After a moment’s hesitation, Laura began to speak, almost mechanically. ‘There’s Richard’s mother,’ she told him. ‘And there’s Benny—Miss Bennett, but we call her Benny—she’s a sort of combined housekeeper and secretary. An ex-hospital nurse. She’s been here for ages, and she’s devoted to Richard. And then there’s Angell. I mentioned him, I think. He’s a male nurse-attendant, and—well, valet, I suppose. He looks after Richard generally.’ ‘Are there servants who live in the house as well?’ ‘No, there are no live-in servants, only dailies who come in.’ She paused. ‘Oh—and I almost forgot,’ she continued. ‘There’s Jan, of course.’ ‘Jan?’ Starkwedder asked, sharply. ‘Who’s Jan?’ Laura gave him an embarrassed look before replying. Then, with an air of reluctance, she said, ‘He’s Richard’s young half-brother. He—he lives with us.’ Starkwedder moved over to the stool where she still sat. ‘Come clean, now,’ he insisted. ‘What is there about Jan that you don’t want to tell me?’ After a moment’s hesitation, Laura spoke, though she still sounded guarded. ‘Jan is a dear,’ she said. ‘Very affectionate and sweet. But—but he isn’t quite like other people.’ ‘I see,’ Starkwedder murmured sympathetically. ‘But you’re fond of him, aren’t you?’ ‘Yes,’ Laura admitted. ‘Yes—I’m very fond of him. That’s—that’s really why I couldn’t just go away and leave Richard. Because of Jan. You see, if Richard had had his own way, he would have sent Jan to an institution.’ Starkwedder slowly circled the wheelchair, looking down at Richard Warwick’s body, and pondering. Then, ‘I see,’ he murmured. ‘Is that the threat he held over you? That, if you left him, he’d send the boy to an institution?’ ‘Yes,’ replied Laura. ‘If I—if I believed that I could have earned enough to keep Jan and myself—but I don’t know that I could. And anyway, Richard was the boy’s legal guardian of course.’ ‘Was Richard kind to him?’ Starkwedder asked. ‘Sometimes,’ she replied. ‘And at other times?’ ‘He’d—he’d quite frequently talk about sending Jan away,’ Laura told him. ‘He’d say to Jan, “They’ll be quite kind to you, boy. You’ll be well looked after. And Laura, I’m sure, would come and see you once or twice a year.” He’d get Jan all worked up, terrified, begging, pleading, stammering. And then Richard would lean back in his chair and roar with laughter. Throw back his head and laugh, laugh, laugh.’ ‘I see,’ said Starkwedder, watching her carefully. After a pause, he repeated thoughtfully, ‘I see.’ Laura rose quickly, and went to the table by the armchair to stub out her cigarette. ‘You needn’t believe me,’ she exclaimed. ‘You needn’t believe a word I say. For all you know, I might be making it all up.’ ‘I’ve told you I’ll risk it,’ Starkwedder replied. ‘Now then,’ he continued, ‘what’s this, what’s-her-name, Bennett—Benny—like? Is she sharp? Bright?’ ‘She’s very efficient and capable,’ Laura assured him. Starkwedder snapped his fingers. ‘Something’s just occurred to me,’ he said. ‘How is it that nobody in the house heard the shot tonight?’ ‘Well, Richard’s mother is quite old, and she’s rather deaf,’ Laura replied. ‘Benny’s room is over on the other side of the house, and Angell’s quarters are quite separate, shut off by a baize door. There’s young Jan, of course. He sleeps in the room over this. But he goes to bed early, and he sleeps very heavily.’ ‘That all seems extremely fortunate,’ Starkwedder observed. Laura looked puzzled. ‘But what are you suggesting?’ she asked him. ‘That we could make it look like suicide?’ He turned to look at the body again. ‘No,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘There’s no hope of suicide, I’m afraid.’ He walked over to the wheelchair and looked down at the corpse of Richard Warwick for a moment, before asking, ‘He was right-handed, I assume?’ ‘Yes,’ replied Laura. ‘Yes, I was afraid so. In which case he couldn’t possibly have shot himself at that angle,’ he declared, pointing to Warwick’s left temple. ‘Besides, there’s no mark of scorching.’ He considered for a few seconds and then added, ‘No, the gun must have been fired from a certain distance away. Suicide is certainly out.’ He paused again before continuing. ‘But there’s accident, of course. After all, it could have been an accident.’ After a longer pause, he began to act out what he had in mind. ‘Now, say for instance that I came here this evening. Just as I did, in fact. Blundered in through this window.’ He went to the French windows, and mimed the act of stumbling into the room. ‘Richard thought I was a burglar, and took a pot shot at me. Well, that’s quite likely, from all you’ve been telling me about his exploits. Well, then, I come up to him’—and Starkwedder hastened to the body in the wheelchair—‘I get the gun away from him—’ Laura interrupted eagerly. ‘And it went off in the struggle—yes?’ ‘Yes,’ Starkwedder agreed, but immediately corrected himself. ‘No, that won’t do. As I say, the police would spot at once that the gun wasn’t fired at such close quarters.’ He took a few more moments to reconsider, and then continued. ‘Well now, say I got the gun right away from him.’ He shook his head, and waved his arms in a gesture of frustration. ‘No, that’s no good. Once I’d done that, why the hell should I shoot him? No, I’m afraid it’s tricky.’ He sighed. ‘All right,’ he decided, ‘let’s leave it at murder. Murder pure and simple. But murder by someone from outside. Murder by person or persons unknown.’ He crossed to the French windows, held back a curtain, and peered out as though seeking inspiration. ‘A real burglar, perhaps?’ Laura suggested helpfully. Starkwedder thought for a moment, and then said, ‘Well, I suppose it could be a burglar, but it seems a bit bogus.’ He paused, then added, ‘What about an enemy? That sounds melodramatic perhaps, but from what you’ve told me about your husband it seems he was the sort who might have had enemies. Am I right?’ ‘Well, yes,’ Laura replied, speaking slowly and uncertainly, ‘I suppose Richard had enemies, but—’ ‘Never mind the buts for the time being,’ Starkwedder interrupted her, stubbing out his cigarette at the table by the wheelchair, and moving to stand over her as she sat on the sofa. ‘Tell me all you can about Richard’s enemies. Number One, I suppose, would be Miss—you know, Miss quivering backside—the woman he took pot shots at. But I don’t suppose she’s a likely murderer. Anyway, I imagine she still lives in Norfolk, and it would be a bit far-fetched to imagine her taking a cheap day return to Wales to bump him off. Who else?’ he urged. ‘Who else is there who had a grudge against him?’ Laura looked doubtful. She got up, moved about, and began to unbutton her jacket. ‘Well,’ she began cautiously, ‘there was a gardener, about a year ago. Richard sacked him and wouldn’t give him a reference. The man was very abusive about it and made a lot of threats.’ ‘Who was he?’ Starkwedder asked. ‘A local chap?’ ‘Yes,’ Laura replied. ‘He came from Llanfechan, about four miles away.’ She took off her jacket and laid it across an arm of the sofa. Starkwedder frowned. ‘I don’t think much of your gardener,’ he told her. ‘You can bet he’s got a nice, stay-at-home alibi. And if he hasn’t got an alibi, or it’s an alibi that only his wife can confirm or support, we might end up getting the poor chap convicted for something he hasn’t done. No, that’s no good. What we want is some enemy out of the past, who wouldn’t be so easy to track down.’ Laura moved slowly around the room, trying to think, as Starkwedder continued, ‘How about someone from Richard’s tiger-and lion-shooting days? Someone in Kenya, or South Africa, or India? Some place where the police can’t check up on him very easily.’ ‘If I could only think,’ said Laura, despairingly. ‘If I could only remember. If I could remember some of the stories about those days that Richard told us at one time or another.’ ‘It isn’t even as though we’d got any nice props handy,’ Starkwedder muttered. ‘You know, a Sikh turban carelessly draped over the decanter, or a Mau Mau knife, or a poisoned arrow.’ He pressed his hands to his forehead in concentration. ‘Damn it all,’ he went on, ‘what we want is someone with a grudge, someone who’d been kicked around by Richard.’ Approaching Laura, he urged her, ‘Think, woman. Think. Think!’ ‘I—I can’t think,’ replied Laura, her voice almost breaking with frustration. ‘You’ve told me the kind of man your husband was. There must have been incidents, people. Heavens above, there must have been something,’ he exclaimed. Laura paced about the room, trying desperately to remember. ‘Someone who made threats. Justifiable threats, perhaps,’ Starkwedder encouraged her. Laura stopped her pacing, and turned to face him. ‘There was—I’ve just remembered,’ she said. She spoke slowly. ‘There was a man whose child Richard ran over.’ CHAPTER 4 (#ulink_937acf80-a6de-574e-b958-459072e9c9c3) Starkwedder stared at Laura. ‘Richard ran over a child?’ he asked excitedly. ‘When was this?’ ‘It was about two years ago,’ Laura told him. ‘When we were living in Norfolk. The child’s father certainly made threats at the time.’ Starkwedder sat down on the footstool. ‘Now, that sounds like a possibility,’ he said. ‘Anyway, tell me all you can remember about him.’ Laura thought for a moment, and then began to speak. ‘Richard was driving back from Cromer,’ she said. ‘He’d had far too much to drink, which was by no means unusual. He drove through a little village at about sixty miles an hour, apparently zig-zagging quite a bit. The child—a little boy—ran out into the road from the inn there—Richard knocked him down and he was killed instantly.’ ‘Do you mean,’ Starkwedder asked her, ‘that your husband could drive a car, despite his disability?’ ‘Yes, he could. Oh, it had to be specially built, with special controls that he could manage, but, yes, he was able to drive that vehicle.’ ‘I see,’ said Starkwedder. ‘What happened about the child? Surely the police could have got Richard for manslaughter?’ ‘There was an inquest, of course,’ Laura explained. A bitter note crept into her voice as she added, ‘Richard was exonerated completely.’ ‘Were there any witnesses?’ Starkwedder asked her. ‘Well,’ Laura replied, ‘there was the child’s father. He saw it happen. But there was also a hospital nurse—Nurse Warburton—who was in the car with Richard. She gave evidence, of course. And according to her, the car was going under thirty miles an hour and Richard had had only one glass of sherry. She said that the accident was quite unavoidable—the little boy just suddenly rushed out, straight in front of the car. They believed her, and not the child’s father who said that the car was being driven erratically and at a very high speed. I understand the poor man was—rather over-violent in expressing his feelings.’ Laura moved to the armchair, adding, ‘You see, anyone would believe Nurse Warburton. She seemed the very essence of honesty and reliability and accuracy and careful understatement and all that.’ ‘You weren’t in the car yourself?’ Starkwedder asked. ‘No, I wasn’t,’ Laura replied. ‘I was at home.’ ‘Then how do you know that what Nurse what’s her-name said mightn’t have been the truth?’ ‘Oh, the whole thing was very freely discussed by Richard,’ she said bitterly. ‘After they came back from the inquest, I remember very clearly. He said, “Bravo, Warby, jolly good show. You’ve probably got me off quite a stiff jail sentence.” And she said, “You don’t deserve to have got off, Mr Warwick. You know you were driving much too fast. It’s a shame about that poor child.” And then Richard said, “Oh, forget it! I’ve made it worth your while. Anyway, what’s one brat more or less in this overcrowded world? He’s just as well out of it all. It’s not going to spoil my sleep, I assure you.”’ Starkwedder rose from the stool and, glancing over his shoulder at Richard Warwick’s body, said grimly, ‘The more I hear about your husband, the more I’m willing to believe that what happened tonight was justifiable homicide rather than murder.’ Approaching Laura, he continued, ‘Now then. This man whose child was run over. The boy’s father. What’s his name?’ ‘A Scottish name, I think,’ Laura replied. ‘Mac—Mac something—MacLeod? MacCrae?—I can’t remember.’ ‘But you’ve got to try to remember,’ Starkwedder insisted. ‘Come on, you must. Is he still living in Norfolk?’ ‘No, no,’ said Laura. ‘He was only over here for a visit. To his wife’s relations, I think. I seem to remember he came from Canada.’ ‘Canada—that’s a nice long way away,’ Starkwedder observed. ‘It would take time to chase up. Yes,’ he continued, moving to behind the sofa, ‘yes, I think there are possibilities there. But for God’s sake try to remember the man’s name.’ He went across to his overcoat on the armchair in the recess, took his gloves from a pocket, and put them on. Then, looking searchingly around the room, he asked, ‘Got any newspapers about?’ ‘Newspapers?’ Laura asked, surprised. ‘Not today’s,’ he explained. ‘Yesterday’s or the day before would do better.’ Rising from the sofa, Laura went to a cupboard behind the armchair. ‘There are some old ones in the cupboard here. We keep them for lighting fires,’ she told him. Starkwedder joined her, opened the cupboard door, and took out a newspaper. After checking the date, he announced, ‘This is fine. Just what we want.’ He closed the cupboard door, took the newspaper to the desk, and from a pigeon-hole on the desk extracted a pair of scissors. ‘What are you going to do?’ asked Laura. ‘We’re going to manufacture some evidence.’ He clicked the scissors as though to demonstrate. Laura stared at him, perplexed. ‘But suppose the police succeed in finding this man?’ she asked. ‘What happens then?’ Starkwedder beamed at her. ‘If he still lives in Canada, it’ll take a bit of doing,’ he announced with an air of smugness. ‘And by the time they do find him, he’ll no doubt have an alibi for tonight. Being a few thousand miles away ought to be satisfactory enough. And by then it will be a bit late for them to check up on things here. Anyway, it’s the best we can do. It’ll give us breathing space at all events.’ Laura looked worried. ‘I don’t like it,’ she complained. Starkwedder gave her a somewhat exasperated look. ‘My dear girl,’ he admonished her, ‘you can’t afford to be choosy. But you must try to remember that man’s name.’ ‘I can’t, I tell you, I can’t,’ Laura insisted. ‘Was it MacDougall, perhaps? Or Mackintosh?’ he suggested helpfully. Laura took a few steps away from him, putting her hands to her ears. ‘Do stop,’ she cried. ‘You’re only making it worse. I’m not sure now that it was Mac anything.’ ‘Well, if you can’t remember, you can’t,’ Starkwedder conceded. ‘We shall have to manage without. You don’t remember the date, by any chance, or anything useful like that?’ ‘Oh, I can tell you the date, all right,’ said Laura. ‘It was May the fifteenth.’ Surprised, Starkwedder asked, ‘Now, how on earth can you remember that?’ There was bitterness in Laura’s voice as she replied, ‘Because it happened on my birthday.’ ‘Ah, I see—yes—well, that solves one little problem,’ observed Starkwedder. ‘And we’ve also got one little piece of luck. This paper is dated the fifteenth.’ He cut the date out carefully from the newspaper. Joining him at the desk and looking over his shoulder, Laura pointed out that the date on the newspaper was November the fifteenth, not May. ‘Yes,’ he admitted, ‘but it’s the numbers that are the more awkward. Now, May. May’s a short word—ah, yes, here’s an M. Now an A, and a Y.’ ‘What in heaven’s name are you doing?’ Laura asked. Starkwedder’s only response, as he seated himself in the desk chair, was, ‘Got any paste?’ Laura was about to take a pot of paste from a pigeon-hole, but he stopped her. ‘No, don’t touch,’ he instructed. ‘We don’t want your fingerprints on it.’ He took the pot of paste in his gloved hands, and removed the lid. ‘How to be a criminal in one easy lesson,’ he continued. ‘And, yes, here’s a plain block of writing paper—the kind sold all over the British Isles.’ Taking a notepad from the pigeon-hole, he proceeded to paste words and letters onto a sheet of notepaper. ‘Now, watch this, one—two—three—a bit tricky with gloves. But there we are. “May fifteen. Paid in full.” Oh, the “in” has come off.’ He pasted it back on again. ‘There, now. How do you like that?’ He tore the sheet off the pad and showed it to her, then went across to Richard Warwick’s body in its wheelchair. ‘We’ll tuck it neatly into his jacket pocket, like that.’ As he did so, he dislodged a pocket lighter, which fell to the floor. ‘Hello, what’s this?’ Laura gave a sharp exclamation and tried to snatch the lighter up, but Starkwedder had already done so, and was examining it. ‘Give it to me,’ cried Laura breathlessly. ‘Give it to me!’ Looking faintly surprised, Starkwedder handed it to her. ‘It’s—it’s my lighter,’ she explained, unnecessarily. ‘All right, so it’s your lighter,’ he agreed. ‘That’s nothing to get upset about.’ He looked at her curiously. ‘You’re not losing your nerve, are you?’ She walked away from him to the sofa. As she did so, she rubbed the lighter on her skirt as though to remove possible fingerprints, taking care to ensure that Starkwedder did not observe her doing so. ‘No, of course I’m not losing my nerve,’ she assured him. Having made certain that the pasted-up message from the newspaper in Richard Warwick’s breast pocket was tucked securely under the lapel, Starkwedder went over to the desk, replaced the lid of the paste-pot, removed his gloves, took out a handkerchief, and looked at Laura. ‘There we are!’ he announced. ‘All ready for the next step. Where’s that glass you were drinking out of just now?’ Laura retrieved the glass from the table where she had deposited it. Leaving her lighter on the table, she returned with the glass to Starkwedder. He took it from her, and was about to wipe off her fingerprints, but then stopped. ‘No,’ he murmured. ‘No, that would be stupid.’ ‘Why?’ asked Laura. ‘Well, there ought to be fingerprints,’ he explained, ‘both on the glass and on the decanter. This valet fellow’s, for one, and probably your husband’s as well. No fingerprints at all would look very fishy to the police.’ He took a sip from the glass he was holding. ‘Now I must think of a way to explain mine,’ he added. ‘Crime isn’t easy, is it?’ With sudden passion, Laura exclaimed, ‘Oh, don’t! Don’t get mixed up in this. They might suspect you.’ Amused, Starkwedder replied, ‘Oh, I’m a very respectable chap—quite above suspicion. But, in a sense I am mixed up in it already. After all, my car’s out there, stuck fast in the ditch. But don’t worry, just a spot of perjury and a little tinkering with the time element—that’s the worst they’d be able to bring against me. And they won’t, if you play your part properly.’ Frightened, Laura sat on the footstool, with her back to him. He came round to face her. ‘Now then,’ he said, ‘are you ready?’ ‘Ready—for what?’ asked Laura. ‘Come on, you must pull yourself together,’ he urged her. Sounding dazed, she murmured, ‘I feel—stupid—I—I can’t think.’ ‘You don’t have to think,’ Starkwedder told her. ‘You’ve just got to obey orders. Now then, here’s the blueprint. First, have you got a furnace of any kind in the house?’ ‘A furnace?’ Laura thought, and then replied, ‘Well, there’s the water boiler.’ ‘Good.’ He went to the desk, took the newspaper, and rolled up the scraps of paper in it. Returning to Laura, he handed her the bundle. ‘Now then,’ he instructed her, ‘the first thing you do is to go into the kitchen and put this in the boiler. Then you go upstairs, get out of your clothes and into a dressing-gown—or negligée, or what-have-you.’ He paused. ‘Have you got any aspirin?’ Puzzled, Laura replied, ‘Yes.’ As though thinking and planning as he spoke, Starkwedder continued, ‘Well—empty the bottle down the loo. Then go along to someone—your mother-in-law, or Miss—what is it—Bennett?—and say you’ve got a headache and want some aspirin. Then, while you’re with whoever it is—leave the door open, by the way—you’ll hear the shot.’ ‘What shot?’ asked Laura, staring at him. Without replying, Starkwedder crossed to the table by the wheelchair and picked up the gun. ‘Yes, yes,’ he murmured absently, ‘I’ll attend to that.’ He examined the gun. ‘Hm. Looks foreign to me—war souvenir, is it?’ Laura rose from the stool. ‘I don’t know,’ she told him. ‘Richard had several foreign makes of pistol.’ ‘I wonder if it’s registered,’ Starkwedder said, almost to himself, still holding the gun. Laura sat on the sofa. ‘Richard had a licence—if that’s what you call it—a permit for his collection,’ she said. ‘Yes, I suppose he would have. But that doesn’t mean that they would all be registered in his name. In practice, people are often rather careless about that kind of thing. Is there anyone who’d be likely to know definitely?’ ‘Angell might,’ said Laura. ‘Does it matter?’ Starkwedder moved about the room as he replied. ‘Well, the way we’re building this up, old MacThing—the father of the child Richard ran over—is more likely to come bursting in, breathing blood and thunder and revenge, with his own weapon at the ready. But one could, after all, make out quite a plausible case the other way. This man—whoever he is—bursts in. Richard, only half awake, snatches up his gun. The other fellow wrenches it away from him, and shoots. I admit it sounds a bit far-fetched, but it’ll have to do. We’ve got to take some risks, it just can’t be avoided.’ He placed the gun on the table by the wheelchair, and approached her. ‘Now then,’ he continued, ‘have we thought of everything? I hope so. The fact that he was shot a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes earlier won’t be apparent by the time the police get here. Driving along these roads in this fog won’t be easy for them.’ He went over to the curtain by the French windows, lifted it, and looked at the bullet holes in the wall. ‘“RW”. Very nice. I’ll try to add a full stop.’ Replacing the curtain, he came back to her. ‘When you hear the shot,’ he instructed Laura, ‘what you do is register alarm, and bring Miss Bennett—or anyone else you can collect—down here. Your story is that you don’t know anything. You went to bed, you woke up with a violent headache, you went along to look for aspirin—and that’s all you know. Understand?’ Laura nodded. ‘Good,’ said Starkwedder. ‘All the rest you leave to me. Are you feeling all right now?’ ‘Yes, I think so,’ Laura whispered. ‘Then go along and do your stuff,’ he ordered her. Laura hesitated. ‘You—you oughtn’t to do this,’ she urged him again. ‘You oughtn’t. You shouldn’t get involved.’ ‘Now, don’t let’s have any more of that,’ Starkwedder insisted. ‘Everyone has their own form of—what did we call it just now?—fun and games. You had your fun and games shooting your husband. I’m having my fun and games now. Let’s just say I’ve always had a secret longing to see how I could get on with a detective story in real life.’ He gave her a quick, reassuring smile. ‘Now, can you do what I’ve told you?’ Laura nodded. ‘Yes.’ ‘Right. Oh, I see you’ve got a watch. Good. What time do you make it?’ Laura showed him her wristwatch, and he set his accordingly. ‘Just after ten minutes to,’ he observed. ‘I’ll allow you three—no, four—minutes. Four minutes to go along to the kitchen, pop that paper in the boiler, go upstairs, get out of your things and into a dressing-gown, and along to Miss Bennett or whoever. Do you think you can do that, Laura?’ He smiled at her reassuringly. Laura nodded. ‘Now then,’ he continued, ‘at five minutes to midnight exactly, you’ll hear the shot. Off you go.’ Moving to the door, she turned and looked at him, uncertain of herself. Starkwedder went across to open the door for her. ‘You’re not going to let me down, are you?’ he asked. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/the-unexpected-guest/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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