|Murder on the Orient Express
Author: Martine Brooke PM
A newspaper account of what would have happened if the murder had gone successfully - no Poirot, no snowdrift. Enjoy!Rated: Fiction K - English - Crime/Mystery - Words: 1,250 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 6 - Published: 12-30-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6607535
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After reading the book for the dozenth time and watching the recent ITV adaptation featuring David Suchet, which I cannot recommend highly enough, I wondered what it would have looked like if the murder was completely successful - i.e. Poirot does not travel on the train and it does not get stuck in a snowdrift. This is set in the book, so events occur in January 1933. It was mainly an intellectual exercise but enjoy it anyway and please leave a review.
Murder on the Orient Express
American businessman murdered on Istanbul-Calais coach; witnesses sought at Vincovci and Brod.
Saturday 14th January 1933 from our Yugoslavia correspondent Martine Brooke.
Early this morning, American businessman Mr. Samuel Ratchett was found dead in his compartment in the Istanbul-Calais coach on the Simplon-Orient Express. He had been travelling from Persia to France on business with personal secretary Mr. Hector MacQueen and valet Mr. Edward Masterman. Having stopped the train at the Yugoslav-Italian border just before three o'clock Central European Time, customs agents attempted to perform a routine search of all passengers' luggage for contraband and illegal items. When Mr. Ratchett did not answer calls or knocks on his compartment door, it was broken in to reveal the American lying dead of multiple stab wounds. Dr. Constantine, a Greek doctor travelling in the Athens-Paris coach, pronounced Samuel Edward Ratchett dead at twenty-four minutes past three with the suggestion that the man was killed between midnight and one o'clock, when the train was between Vincovci and Brod in Yugoslavia.
Initially, the question of how his murderer left Mr. Ratchett's compartment was a mystery: the door out to the corridor was locked and chained from the inside. However, after Italian police arrived and began to question the other occupants of the coach, it was soon established that the man escaped through a communicating door into the compartment of fellow traveller Mrs. Caroline Hubbard and from there into the corridor. While he was in Mrs. Hubbard's compartment, she awoke and sensed another person in the room.
"He was actually in my compartment," Mrs. Hubbard told our correspondent. "It was nearly one in the morning and I suddenly woke up and, even thought it was pitch black, I knew there was a man there, standing over me. I didn't dare move. It was all so quiet I thought everyone else on the train was dead. I heard him leave my room and that's when I started ringing for the conductor because I thought it could have been Mr. Ratchett himself in my room. My daughter told me all about these men on trains and how I should make sure to keep everything locked at night."
This incident was confirmed by M. Pierre Michel, the Wagon-Lit conductor for the coach.
"In my fifteen years of working for the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, I have never seen a murder on the train. Passengers, however, often do experience claustrophobia or nightmares and, having seen no evidence that there had ever been a man present in Madame's compartment, I assumed she had just had a bad dream. The communicating door between the two compartments was locked on Madame's side."
It was the Italian police who found the sole piece of evidence for the murderer's presence in Mrs. Hubbard's room: a button torn from the tunic of a Wagon-Lit conductor's uniform that had appeared on the floor after Mrs. Hubbard had retired for the night. None of the three conductors on board in the train were missing any buttons from their uniforms and a passenger, Frau. Hildegarde Schmidt, remembered seeing an unfamiliar conductor in the corridor as she went to attend her employer.
"I saw him in the corridor as I returned from my compartment to my lady's compartment with a rug for her due to the cold weather. As I was coming out, I almost ran into a small, dark man with a moustache in a conductor's uniform who had come out of a door in the middle of the carriage. He was not our usual conductor and I did not recognise him when the police asked me to look at the other conductors on the train. He spoke to me as we passed. He said 'Pardon' in a very soft voice, like a woman's."
Two other passengers, Mr. MacQueen and Col. Arbuthnot, also saw a man in a conductor's uniform pass by at about one o'clock shortly after the train stopped at Brod as they sat in Mr. MacQueen's room discussing politics. At the time, the real conductor M. Michel was standing outside on the platform at Brod and remained there until summoned by Mrs. Hubbard's bell. During the search of the carriage, a Wagon-Lit conductor's uniform with pass-keys was found discarded in one of the toilets. Mr. Masterman, lying awake with toothache in the nearest compartment, told the police he remembered the toilet door slamming shortly after one o'clock.
Another passenger, who works as an agent for McNeil's Detective Agency in New York and wished to remained anonymous, told Italian police that he had been briefly employed by Mr. Ratchett. The deceased had been concerned for his safety and security and gave the agent a description matching that of the man seen by Frau. Schmitt and instructions to watch the corridor between the Istanbul-Calais coach and the other sleeping coaches. The agent confirmed to police that no person had entered the coach from another part of the train. Mr. Ratchett's personal secretary, Mr. MacQueen, told police that his employer had been receiving threatening communication from unknown parties and was distressed about its content. He explained to our correspondent that Mr. Ratchett had never talked about his past and theorised that he was on the run from someone seeking personal vengeance.
Captain Guilio Farinelli of the Italian police, who is working with the Yugoslav police on the case, earlier released this statement:
"From the evidence found and eye-witness accounts, it is clear that an assassin entered the Istanbul-Calais coach at Vincovci between twenty-eight minutes past eleven and two minutes to midnight and exited at Brod between two minutes to one and twenty-eight minutes past one. We are seeking witnesses at both stations who may have seen this man. He has been described as short, dark-haired and with a moustache. At Vincovci he would have been wearing a brown conductor's uniform and at Brod he would have been wearing civilian clothing. Anyone who might have seen this man is urged to come forward to the Yugoslav police."
M. Bouc, director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits and who was travelling on the train in a different sleeping car, has offered a four thousand franc reward to any party whose evidence helps to solve the case.
"This is the first and only murder we have ever had on the Orient Express and I am most shocked and grieved that this has occurred," M. Bouc told our correspondent. "I would like to express my assurances that what happened last night was an exceptional event and was concerned solely to Mr. Ratchett. No passenger who travels on my trains is at risk and security will be increased on board all trains in future so no incident like this will be allowed to happen again."