2. THE DOUBLE CLUE
"But above everything – no publicity," said Mr. Marcus Hardman for perhaps the fourteenth time. He repeated the word publicity regularly throughout his conversation. Mr. Hardman was a small man, delicately plump, with exquisitely manicured hands and a plaintive tenor voice. He was rich, but not remarkably so. His hobby was collecting. Old lace, old fans, antique jewelry were the focus of his interest. Poirot and I, obeying Mr. Hardman's urgent call, had arrived at his house. "My rubies, Monsieur Poirot, and the emerald necklace – said to have belonged to Catherine de Medici. Oh, the emerald necklace!" "If you will tell me the circumstances of their disappearance?" suggested Poirot gently. "You see, yesterday afternoon I had a little tea party – some half a dozen people or so. I have given one or two of them during the season, and they have been quite a success. Some good music – Nacora, the pianist, and Katherine Bird, the Australian contralto – in the big studio. Well, early in the afternoon, I was showing my guests my collection of medieval jewels. I keep them in the small wall safe over there. It is arranged like a cabinet inside, with colored velvet background, to display the stones. Afterward we inspected the fans – in that case on the wall. Then we all went to the studio for music. It was not until after everyone had gone that I discovered the safe rifled! I must have failed to shut it properly! The rubies, Monsieur Poirot, the emerald necklace – the collection of a lifetime! What would I not give to recover them! But there must be no publicity! You fully understand that, do you not, Monsieur Poirot? My own guests, my personal friends! It would be a horrible scandal!" "Who was the last person to leave this room when you went to the studio?" "Mr. Johnston. You may know him? The South African millionaire. He has just rented the Abbotburys' house in Park Lane. He stayed in the studio a few moments, I remember. But surely, oh, surely it could not be he!" "Did any of your guests return to this room during the afternoon on any pretext?" "I was prepared for that question, Monsieur Poirot. Three of them did so. Countess Vera Rossakoff, Mr. Bernard Parker, and Lady Runcorn." "Let us hear about them."
"The Countess Rossakoff is a very charming Russian lady, a member of the old regime. She has recently come to this country. She had said good-bye, and I was therefore somewhat surprised to find her in this room looking at my cabinet of fans after that. You know, Monsieur Poirot, the more I think of it, the more suspicious it seems to me. Don't you agree?" "Extremely suspicious; but let us hear about the others."
"Well, Parker simply came here to fetch a case of miniatures that I was anxious to show to Lady Runcorn." "And Lady Runcorn herself?"
"Well, Lady Runcorn, she simply returned to take a handbag she had laid down there." "So we have four possible – suspects. The Russian countess, the English grand dame, the South African millionaire, and Mr. Bernard Parker. Who is Mr. Parker, by the way?" The question appeared to embarrass Mr. Hardman considerably. "He is – er– he is a young fellow. Well, in fact, a young fellow I know." "What does he do, this young fellow? And how did he come to be a friend of yours, may I ask?" "Well – er – on one or two occasions he has performed certain little commissions for me." "Continue, monsieur," said Poirot.
Hardman looked piteously at the detective. Evidently the last thing he wanted to do was to continue. But as Poirot maintained silence waiting for the information, Hardman had to go on. "You see, Monsieur Poirot–it is well known that I am interested in antique jewels. Sometimes there is a family heirloom to be disposed of – which would never be sold in the open market or to a dealer. But a private sale to me is a very different matter. Parker arranges the details of such things, he is in touch with both sides, and thus any little embarrassment is avoided. He brings...
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