The Incredible Theft: A Hercule Poirot Short Story Agatha Christie A classic Agatha Christie short story, available individually for the first time as an ebook.Plans for a secret bomber plane have been stolen from a minister’s house. Poirot is called to discreetly investigate the guests and to locate the plans before they fall into the enemy’s hands… The Incredible Theft A Short Story by Agatha Christie Copyright (#ulink_8e2a72ce-060e-57cb-a9b8-2fc33522182f) Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) Copyright © 1999 Agatha Christie Ltd. Cover design © HarperCollinsPublishers 2013 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. 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Contents Cover (#uea76028b-eb0e-5b30-9cc1-14893cf38209) Title Page (#u57867164-71bf-51e1-bec8-2c076d7868ac) Copyright The Incredible Theft (#u73c67920-4062-5806-b38f-8ee74a4b893f) Releated Products (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) The Incredible Theft (#ulink_3ce66d7f-c0da-53c3-b1d2-3001181aca69) ‘The Incredible Theft’ is an expanded version of the story ‘The Submarine Plans’ which was first published in The Sketch, 7 November 1923. As the butler handed round the soufflé, Lord Mayfield leaned confidentially towards his neighbour on the right, Lady Julia Carrington. Known as a perfect host, Lord Mayfield took trouble to live up to his reputation. Although unmarried, he was always charming to women. Lady Julia Carrington was a woman of forty, tall, dark and vivacious. She was very thin, but still beautiful. Her hands and feet in particular were exquisite. Her manner was abrupt and restless, that of a woman who lived on her nerves. About opposite to her at the round table sat her husband, Air Marshal Sir George Carrington. His career had begun in the Navy, and he still retained the bluff breeziness of the ex-Naval man. He was laughing and chaffing the beautiful Mrs Vanderlyn, who was sitting on the other side of her host. Mrs Vanderlyn was an extremely good-looking blonde. Her voice held a soupçon of American accent, just enough to be pleasant without undue exaggeration. On the other side of Sir George Carrington sat Mrs Macatta, M.P. Mrs Macatta was a great authority on Housing and Infant Welfare. She barked out short sentences rather than spoke them, and was generally of somewhat alarming aspect. It was perhaps natural that the Air Marshal would find his right-hand neighbour the pleasanter to talk to. Mrs Macatta, who always talked shop wherever she was, barked out short spates of information on her special subjects to her left-hand neighbour, young Reggie Carrington. Reggie Carrington was twenty-one, and completely uninterested in Housing, Infant Welfare, and indeed any political subject. He said at intervals, ‘How frightful!’ and ‘I absolutely agree with you,’ and his mind was clearly elsewhere. Mr Carlile, Lord Mayfield’s private secretary, sat between young Reggie and his mother. A pale young man with pince-nez and an air of intelligent reserve, he talked little, but was always ready to fling himself into any conversational breach. Noticing that Reggie Carrington was struggling with a yawn, he leaned forward and adroitly asked Mrs Macatta a question about her ‘Fitness for Children’ scheme. Round the table, moving silently in the subdued amber light, a butler and two footmen offered dishes and filled up wine-glasses. Lord Mayfield paid a very high salary to his chef, and was noted as a connoisseur of wines. The table was a round one, but there was no mistaking who was the host. Where Lord Mayfield sat was so very decidedly the head of the table. A big man, square-shouldered, with thick silvery hair, a big straight nose and a slightly prominent chin. It was a face that lent itself easily to caricature. As Sir Charles McLaughlin, Lord Mayfield had combined a political career with being the head of a big engineering firm. He was himself a first-class engineer. His peerage had come a year ago, and at the same time he had been created first Minister of Armaments, a new ministry which had only just come into being. The dessert had been placed on the table. The port had circulated once. Catching Mrs Vanderlyn’s eye, Lady Julia rose. The three women left the room. The port passed once more, and Lord Mayfield referred lightly to pheasants. The conversation for five minutes or so was sporting. Then Sir George said: ‘Expect you’d like to join the others in the drawing-room, Reggie, my boy. Lord Mayfield won’t mind.’ The boy took the hint easily enough. ‘Thanks, Lord Mayfield, I think I will.’ Mr Carlile mumured: ‘If you’ll excuse me, Lord Mayfield – certain memoranda and other work to get through …’ Lord Mayfield nodded. The two young men left the room. The servants had retired some time before. The Minister for Armaments and the head of the Air Force were alone. After a minute or two, Carrington said: ‘Well – O.K.?’ ‘Absolutely! There’s nothing to touch this new bomber in any country in Europe.’ ‘Make rings round ’em, eh? That’s what I thought.’ ‘Supremacy of the air,’ said Lord Mayfield decisively. Sir George Carrington gave a deep sigh. ‘About time! You know, Charles, we’ve been through a ticklish spell. Lots of gunpowder everywhere all over Europe. And we weren’t ready, damn it! We’ve had a narrow squeak. And we’re not out of the wood yet, however much we hurry on construction.’ Lord Mayfield murmured: ‘Nevertheless, George, there are some advantages in starting late. A lot of the European stuff is out of date already – and they’re perilously near bankruptcy.’ ‘I don’t believe that means anything,’ said Sir George gloomily. ‘One’s always hearing this nation and that is bankrupt! But they carry on just the same. You know, finance is an absolute mystery to me.’ Lord Mayfield’s eyes twinkled a little. Sir George Carrington was always so very much the old fashioned ‘bluff, honest old sea dog’. There were people who said that it was a pose he deliberately adopted. Changing the subject, Carrington said in a slightly over-casual manner: ‘Attractive woman, Mrs Vanderlyn – eh?’ Lord Mayfield said: ‘Are you wondering what she’s doing here?’ His eyes were amused. Carrington looked a little confused. ‘Not at all – not at all.’ ‘Oh, yes, you were! Don’t be an old humbug, George. You were wondering, in a slightly dismayed fashion, whether I was the latest victim!’ Carrington said slowly: ‘I’ll admit that it did seem a trifle odd to me that she should be here – well, this particular weekend.’ Lord Mayfield nodded. ‘Where the carcass is, there are the vultures gathered together. We’ve got a very definite carcass, and Mrs Vanderlyn might be described as Vulture No. 1.’ The Air Marshal said abruptly: ‘Know anything about this Vanderlyn woman?’ Lord Mayfield clipped off the end of a cigar, lit it with precision and, throwing his head back, dropped out his words with careful deliberation. ‘What do I know about Mrs Vanderlyn? I know that she’s an American subject. I know that she’s had three husbands, one Italian, one German and one Russian, and that in consequence she has made useful what I think are called “contacts” in three countries. I know that she manages to buy very expensive clothes and live in a very luxurious manner, and that there is some slight uncertainty as to where the income comes from which permits her to do so.’ With a grin, Sir George Carrington murmured: ‘Your spies have not been inactive, Charles, I see.’ ‘I know,’ Lord Mayfield continued, ‘that in addition to having a seductive type of beauty, Mrs Vanderlyn is also a very good listener, and that she can display a fascinating interest in what we call “shop”. That is to say, a man can tell her all about his job and feel that he is being intensely interesting to the lady! Sundry young officers have gone a little too far in their zeal to be interesting, and their careers have suffered in consequence. They have told Mrs Vanderlyn a little more than they should have done. Nearly all the lady’s friends are in the Services – but last winter she was hunting in a certain county near one of our largest armament firms, and she formed various friendships not at all sporting in character. To put it briefly, Mrs Vanderlyn is a very useful person to …’ He described a circle in the air with his cigar. ‘Perhaps we had better not say to whom! We will just say to a European power – and perhaps to more than one European power.’ Carrington drew a deep breath. ‘You take a great load off my mind, Charles.’ ‘You thought I had fallen for the siren? My dear George! Mrs Vanderlyn is just a little too obvious in her methods for a wary old bird like me. Besides, she is, as they say, not quite so young as she once was. Your young squadron leaders wouldn’t notice that. But I am fifty-six, my boy. In another four years I shall probably be a nasty old man continually haunting the society of unwilling debutantes.’ ‘I was a fool,’ said Carrington apologetically, ‘but it seemed a bit odd –’ ‘It seemed to you odd that she should be here, in a somewhat intimate family party just at the moment when you and I were to hold an unofficial conference over a discovery that will probably revolutionize the whole problem of air defence?’ Sir George Carrington nodded. Lord Mayfield said, smiling: ‘That’s exactly it. That’s the bait.’ ‘The bait?’ ‘You see, George, to use the language of the movies, we’ve nothing actually “on” the woman. And we want something! She’s got away with rather more than she should in the past. But she’s been careful – damnably careful. We know what she’s been up to, but we’ve got no definite proof of it. We’ve got to tempt her with something big.’ ‘Something big being the specification of the new bomber?’ ‘Exactly. It’s got to be something big enough to induce her to take a risk – to come out into the open. And then – we’ve got her!’ Sir George grunted. ‘Oh, well,’ he said. ‘I dare say it’s all right. But suppose she won’t take the risk?’ ‘That would be a pity,’ said Lord Mayfield. Then he added: ‘But I think she will …’ He rose. ‘Shall we join the ladies in the drawing-room? We mustn’t deprive your wife of her bridge.’ Sir George grunted: ‘Julia’s a damned sight too fond of her bridge. Drops a packet over it. She can’t afford to play as high as she does, and I’ve told her so. The trouble is, Julia’s a born gambler.’ Coming round the table to join his host, he said: ‘Well, I hope your plan comes off, Charles.’ In the drawing-room conversation had flagged more than once. Mrs Vanderlyn was usually at a disadvantage when left alone with members of her own sex. That charming sympathetic manner of hers, so much appreciated by members of the male sex, did not for some reason or other commend itself to women. Lady Julia was a woman whose manners were either very good or very bad. On this occasion she disliked Mrs Vanderlyn, and was bored by Mrs Macatta, and made no secret of her feelings. Conversation languished, and might have ceased altogether but for the latter. Mrs Macatta was a woman of great earnestness of purpose. Mrs Vanderlyn she dismissed immediately as a useless and parasitic type. Lady Julia she tried to interest in a forthcoming charity entertainment which she was organizing. Lady Julia answered vaguely, stifled a yawn or two and retired into her own inner preoccupation. Why didn’t Charles and George come? How tiresome men were. Her comments became even more perfunctory as she became absorbed in her own thoughts and worries. The three women were sitting in silence when the men finally entered the room. Lord Mayfield thought to himself: ‘Julia looks ill tonight. What a mass of nerves the woman is.’ Aloud he said: ‘What about a rubber – eh?’ Lady Julia brightened at once. Bridge was as the breath of life to her. Reggie Carrington entered the room at that minute, and a four was arranged. Lady Julia, Mrs Vanderlyn, Sir George and young Reggie sat down to the card-table. Lord Mayfield devoted himself to the task of entertaining Mrs Macatta. When two rubbers had been played, Sir George looked ostentatiously at the clock on the mantelpiece. ‘Hardly worth while beginning another,’ he remarked. His wife looked annoyed. ‘It’s only a quarter to eleven. A short one.’ ‘They never are, my dear,’ said Sir George good-temperedly. ‘Anyway, Charles and I have some work to do.’ Mrs Vanderlyn murmured: ‘How important that sounds! I suppose you clever men who are at the top of things never get a real rest.’ ‘No forty-eight hour week for us,’ said Sir George. Mrs Vanderlyn murmured: ‘You know, I feel rather ashamed of myself as a raw American, but I do get so thrilled at meeting people who control the destinies of a country. I expect that seems a very crude point of view to you, Sir George.’ ‘My dear Mrs Vanderlyn, I should never think of you as “crude” or “raw”.’ He smiled into her eyes. There was, perhaps, a hint of irony in the voice which she did not miss. Adroitly she turned to Reggie, smiling sweetly into his eyes. ‘I’m sorry we’re not continuing our partnership. That was a frightfully clever four no-trump call of yours.’ Flushed and pleased, Reggie mumbled: ‘Bit of a fluke that it came off.’ ‘Oh, no, it was really a clever bit of deduction on your part. You’d deduced from the bidding exactly where the cards must be, and you played accordingly. I thought it was brilliant.’ Lady Julia rose abruptly. ‘The woman lays it on with a palette-knife,’ she thought disgustedly. Then her eyes softened as they rested on her son. He believed it all. How pathetically young and pleased he looked. How incredibly naïve he was. No wonder he got into scrapes. He was too trusting. The truth of it was he had too sweet a nature. George didn’t understand him in the least. Men were so unsympathetic in their judgments. They forgot that they had ever been young themselves. George was much too harsh with Reggie. Mrs Macatta had risen. Goodnights were said. The three women went out of the room. Lord Mayfield helped himself to a drink after giving one to Sir George, then he looked up as Mr Carlile appeared at the door. ‘Get out the files and all the papers, will you, Carlile? Including the plans and the prints. The Air Marshal and I will be along shortly. We’ll just take a turn outside first, eh, George? It’s stopped raining.’ Mr Carlile, turning to depart, murmured an apology as he almost collided with Mrs Vanderlyn. She drifted towards them, murmuring: ‘My book, I was reading it before dinner.’ Reggie sprang forward and held up a book. ‘Is this it? On the sofa?’ ‘Oh, yes. Thank you so much.’ She smiled sweetly, said goodnight again and went out of the room. Sir George had opened one of the french windows. ‘Beautiful night now,’ he announced. ‘Good idea of yours to take a turn.’ Reggie said: ‘Well, goodnight, sir. I’ll be toddling off to bed.’ ‘Goodnight, my boy,’ said Lord Mayfield. Reggie picked up a detective story which he had begun earlier in the evening and left the room. Lord Mayfield and Sir George stepped out upon the terrace. It was a beautiful night, with a clear sky studded with stars. Sir George drew a deep breath. ‘Phew, that woman uses a lot of scent,’ he remarked. Lord Mayfield laughed. ‘Anyway, it’s not cheap scent. One of the most expensive brands on the market, I should say.’ Sir George gave a grimace. ‘I suppose one should be thankful for that.’ ‘You should, indeed. I think a woman smothered in cheap scent is one of the greatest abominations known to mankind.’ Sir George glanced up at the sky. ‘Extraordinary the way it’s cleared. I heard the rain beating down when we were at dinner.’ The two men strolled gently along the terrace. The terrace ran the whole length of the house. Below it the ground sloped gently away, permitting a magnificent view over the Sussex weald. Sir George lit a cigar. ‘About this metal alloy –’ he began. The talk became technical. As they approached the far end of the terrace for the fifth time, Lord Mayfield said with a sigh: ‘Oh, well, I suppose we’d better get down to it.’ ‘Yes, good bit of work to get through.’ The two men turned, and Lord Mayfield uttered a surprised ejaculation. ‘Hallo! See that?’ ‘See what?’ asked Sir George. ‘Thought I saw someone slip across the terrace from my study window.’ ‘Nonsense, old boy. I didn’t see anything.’ ‘Well, I did – or I thought I did.’ ‘Your eyes are playing tricks on you. I was looking straight down the terrace, and I’d have seen anything there was to be seen. There’s precious little I don’t see – even if I do have to hold a newspaper at arm’s length.’ Lord Mayfield chuckled. ‘I can put one over on you there, George. I read easily without glasses.’ ‘But you can’t always distinguish the fellow on the other side of the House. Or is that eyeglass of yours sheer intimidation?’ Laughing, the two men entered Lord Mayfield’s study, the french window of which was open. Mr Carlile was busy arranging some papers in a file by the safe. He looked up as they entered. ‘Ha, Carlile, everything ready?’ ‘Yes, Lord Mayfield, all the papers are on your desk.’ The desk in question was a big important-looking writing-table of mahogany set across a corner by the window. Lord Mayfield went over to it, and began sorting through the various documents laid out. ‘Lovely night now,’ said Sir George. Mr Carlile agreed. ‘Yes, indeed. Remarkable the way it’s cleared up after the rain.’ Putting away his file, Mr Carlile asked: ‘Will you want me any more tonight, Lord Mayfield?’ ‘No, I don’t think so, Carlile. I’ll put all these away myself. We shall probably be late. You’d better turn in.’ ‘Thank you. Goodnight, Lord Mayfield. Goodnight, Sir George.’ ‘Goodnight, Carlile.’ As the secretary was about to leave the room, Lord Mayfield said sharply: ‘Just a minute, Carlile. You’ve forgotten the most important of the lot.’ ‘I beg your pardon, Lord Mayfield.’ ‘The actual plans of the bomber, man.’ The secretary stared. ‘They’re right on the top, sir.’ ‘They’re nothing of the sort.’ ‘But I’ve just put them there.’ ‘Look for yourself, man.’ With a bewildered expression, the young man came forward and joined Lord Mayfield at the desk. Somewhat impatiently the Minister indicated the pile of papers. Carlile sorted through them, his expression of bewilderment growing. ‘You see, they’re not there.’ The secretary stammered: ‘But – but it’s incredible. I laid them there not three minutes ago.’ Lord Mayfield said good-humouredly: ‘You must have made a mistake, they must be still in the safe.’ ‘I don’t see how – I know I put them there!’ Lord Mayfield brushed past him to the open safe. Sir George joined them. A very few minutes sufficed to show that the plans of the bomber were not there. Dazed and unbelieving, the three men returned to the desk and once more turned over the papers. ‘My God!’ said Mayfield. ‘They’re gone!’ Mr Carlile cried: ‘But it’s impossible!’ ‘Who’s been in this room?’ snapped out the Minister. ‘No one. No one at all.’ ‘Look here, Carlile, those plans haven’t vanished into thin air. Someone has taken them. Has Mrs Vanderlyn been in here?’ ‘Mrs Vanderlyn? Oh, no, sir.’ ‘I’ll back that,’ said Carrington. He sniffed the air! ‘You’d soon smell if she had. That scent of hers.’ ‘Nobody has been in here,’ insisted Carlile. ‘I can’t understand it.’ ‘Look here, Carlile,’ said Lord Mayfield. ‘Pull yourself together. We’ve got to get to the bottom of this. You’re absolutely sure the plans were in the safe?’ Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/the-incredible-theft-a-hercule-poirot-short-story/?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.КУПИТЬ И СКАЧАТЬ ЗА: 117.09 руб.