Chapter 1. Lord Edgware's Dead
I looked at the morning paper with interest. It had just arrived, and the first headline I saw was:
LORD EDGWARE'S MURDER
DID A FILM STAR STAB HER SPOUSE?
"Poirot, you may find it definitely intriguing," I said to my Belgian friend, who was drinking coffee and trying to find something to occupy his little gray cells.
"What?" he asked as he turned to take a look at the news. He read the article and shrugged:
"Well, what do we have here? Jane Wilkinson, a film star used to getting what she wanted, fell out of love with her husband, Lord Edgware, and wanted to marry the Duke of Merton. Lord Edgware wouldn't give her a divorce. She visited him yesterday, was observed by several servants, and in the morning His Lordship is found stabbed. It is probably quite clear."
"But look here!" I pointed to the last paragraph of the article. Poirot chuckled:
"Ah, just the thing for your romantic imagination, Hastings. However, the maidservant also found a lock of dark hair by the body's side. The lock was identified (with fair certainty) as the hair of Miss Geraldine Marsh, Lord Edgware's daughter, who is said to have had a lot of quarrels with her father. Miss Marsh, though, claims to have been at the opera theatre at the time of the murder. The police are investigating the case… Eh bien, you suppose the murderess stabs her father in a quarrel and calmly leaves to the theatre, helpfully dropping a clue – a lock of hair no less! – near the body for the police to find?"
"Poirot, it looks very believable…"
"For a third-class novel!"
"Well, how do you explain the lock?"
Before Poirot could say a word, his servant George entered.
"Sorry to bother you, monsieurs, but there's a lady who wishes to see you urgently, Monsieur Poirot. The famous actress, Jane Wilson – no, Wilkinson."
"Yes, I shall see her," Poirot nodded.
"There it is!" I exclaimed as George left. "I knew at a glimpse that the case would be interesting."
"Don't think so just because the lady comes for my advice."
As he spoke, George came again. He escorted Jane Wilkinson into the room
Jane Wilkinson, Lady Edgware, looked very much like she did in films. She was not a young beautiful maiden – no, she was well over forty, but her face still looked relatively lively and youthful. A few wrinkles traced it, but her eyes glittered with energy. Her golden blond hair flowed down her shoulders. The black mourning dress didn't at all match the air of content and cheerfulness that surrounded Lady Edgware.
"Monsieur Poirot?" she greeted my friend. "I think you've heard of me."
"Yes, madame. We're pleased to meet you in person."
The usual polite words were exchanged, and Jane Wilkinson sat at the table. Her eyes fell on my paper.
"Oh, so you know about my husband's murder."
"We were discussing it the moment you arrived, madame. I offer you my condolences."
"No, please," Jane cringed. "My husband was awful – simply awful. We've been separated for years. I was on the verge of catching a taxi, going to Marsh House and stabbing him myself, but then, thankfully, he agreed for the divorce. It was actually going to be finished in the next two months."
"So Lord Edgware did give you a divorce?" Poirot raised his brow.
"Then what is your problem? You had no motive to kill him."
"This is what I was trying to tell the police an hour ago, but they wouldn't listen." Jane whimpered. "Not only did I have no motive, but I had no opportunity. I was at dinner last night at Sir Corner's. They still suspect me, though."
"Why?" Poirot inquired. "They are not so foolish."
Jane gave us a bitter sarcastic smile.
"I was called away during the dinner. For half an hour. They think it was enough for me to stab my husband.
"Also, that dreadful lock of Geraldine's! The wicked stepmother commits a crime and incriminates the poor stepdaughter. I happened to visit Marsh House when Geraldine was having her last haircut (her hair is always cut by Miss Carroll, our secretary who's very fond of her). It was a week ago."
"The lock might mean nothing, but why were you called away from Sir Corner's?"
"Alfred Grithe, the butler from Marsh House, called on the phone and told me that the pearl necklace I lost a week ago was found there. The necklace is worth thousands, so naturally I went to retrieve it. I caught a taxi, because I was in a great hurry – I did not want to leave the party for long. But when the taxi drove past Piccadilly Hotel, I suddenly remembered I left my necklace there, in the room of my friend Zelma Van Dusen. I visit her regularly, you see. I stopped, went to her, we discovered the necklace, I phoned Marsh House and told Grithe there had been a mistake. Then I went back to Sir Corner's. I was lucky with the necklace, you know. Zelma was leaving to the USA just that night, and leave she did."
"Who can prove your alibi, madame?"
"This half an hour, you mean? Oh, lots of people. Alfred Grithe. Sir Corner's butler who answered the phone. The receptionist and the guests at Piccadilly Hotel. Lots of people."
"Fine," Poirot murmured. He seemed to be in deep thoughts.
"Could you help me to prove my alibi, Monsieur Poirot?" Jane pleaded. "You're the greatest detective alive, as I've heard. You might find the actual murderer."
Poirot's eyes lit up with pride.
"Yes, madame. I think I'll do it."
Jane Wilkinson clapped.
"I think that we should go to the scene of the crime now, while it's still, let's say, fresh. We'll question the servants and Miss Marsh, and later – we'll see."
Jane Wilkinson smiled:
"I hope you'll soon prove I'm not guilty in the least."