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Authors: Agatha Christie

Death in the Clouds

BOOK: Death in the Clouds
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Death in
the Clouds

To Ormond Beadle

Passengers

Seat

No. 2 Madame Giselle

No. 4 James Ryder

No. 5 Monsieur Armand Dupont

No. 6 Monsieur Jean Dupont

No. 8 Daniel Clancy

No. 9 Hercule Poirot

No. 10 Doctor Bryant

No. 12 Norman Gale

No. 13 The Countess of Horbury

No. 16 Jane Grey

No. 17 The Hon. Venetia Kerr

The September sun beat down hotly on Le Bourget aerodrome as the passengers crossed the ground and climbed into the air liner
Prometheus
, due to depart for Croydon in a few minutes’ time.

Jane Grey was among the last to enter and take her seat, No. 16. Some of the passengers had already passed on through the centre door past the tiny pantry-kitchen and the two toilets to the front car. Most people were already seated. On the opposite side of the gangway there was a good deal of chatter—a rather shrill, high-pitched woman’s voice dominating it. Jane’s lips twisted slightly. She knew that particular type of voice so well.

‘My dear—it’s extraordinary—no idea—Where, do you say? Juan les Pins? Oh, yes. No—Le Pinet—Yes, just the same old crowd—But of
course
let’s sit together. Oh, can’t we? Who—? Oh, I see…’

And then a man’s voice—foreign, polite:

‘—With the greatest of pleasure, Madame.’

Jane stole a glance out of the corner of her eye.

A little elderly man with large moustaches and an egg-shaped head was politely moving himself and his belongings from the seat corresponding to Jane’s on the opposite side of the gangway.

Jane turned her head slightly and got a view of the two women whose unexpected meeting had occasioned this polite action on the stranger’s part. The mention of Le Pinet had stimulated her curiosity, for Jane also had been at Le Pinet.

She remembered one of the women perfectly—remembered how she had seen her last—at the baccarat table, her little hands clenching and unclenching themselves—her delicately made-up Dresden china face flushing and paling alternately. With a little effort, Jane thought, she could have remembered her name. A friend had mentioned it—had said: ‘She’s a peeress, she is, but not one of the proper ones—she was only some chorus girl or other.’

Deep scorn in the friend’s voice. That had been Maisie, who had a first-class job as a masseuse ‘taking off ’ flesh.

The other woman, Jane thought in passing, was the ‘real thing’. The ‘horsey, county type’, thought Jane, and forthwith forgot the two women and interested
herself in the view obtainable through the window of Le Bourget aerodrome. Various other machines were standing about. One of them looked like a big metallic centipede.

The one place she was obstinately determined not to look was straight in front of her, where, on the seat opposite, sat a young man.

He was wearing a rather bright periwinkle-blue pullover. Above the pullover Jane was determined not to look. If she did, she might catch his eye, and that would never do!

Mechanics shouted in French—the engine roared—relaxed—roared again—obstructions were pulled away—the plane started.

Jane caught her breath. It was only her second flight. She was still capable of being thrilled. It looked—it looked as though they must run into that fence thing—no, they were off the ground—rising—rising—sweeping round—there was Le Bourget beneath them.

The midday service to Croydon had started. It contained twenty-one passengers—ten in the forward carriage, eleven in the rear one. It had two pilots and two stewards. The noise of the engines was very skilfully deadened. There was no need to put cotton wool in the ears. Nevertheless there was enough noise to discourage conversation and encourage thought.

As the plane roared above France on its way to
the Channel the passengers in the rear compartment thought their various thoughts.

Jane Grey thought: ‘I won’t look at him…I won’t…It’s much better not. I’ll go on looking out of the window and thinking. I’ll choose a definite thing to think about—that’s always the best way. That will keep my mind steady. I’ll begin at the beginning and go all over it.’

Resolutely she switched her mind back to what she called the beginning, that purchase of a ticket in the Irish Sweep. It had been an extravagance, but an exciting extravagance.

A lot of laughter and teasing chatter in the hairdressing establishment in which Jane and five other young ladies were employed.

‘What’ll you do if you win it, dear?’

‘I know what I’d do.’

Plans—castles in the air—a lot of chaff.

Well, she hadn’t won ‘it’—‘it’ being the big prize; but she
had
won a hundred pounds.

A hundred pounds.

‘You spend half of it, dear, and keep the other half for a rainy day. You never know.’

‘I’d buy a fur coat, if I was you—a real tip-top one.’

‘What about a cruise?’

Jane had wavered at the thought of a ‘cruise’, but in
the end she had remained faithful to her first idea. A week at Le Pinet. So many of her ladies had been going to Le Pinet or just come back from Le Pinet. Jane, her clever fingers patting and manipulating the waves, her tongue uttering mechanically the usual clichés, ‘Let me see, how long is it since you had your perm, Madam?’ ‘Your hair’s such an uncommon colour, Madam.’ ‘What a wonderful summer it has been, hasn’t it, Madam?’ had thought to herself, ‘Why the devil can’t
I
go to Le Pinet?’ Well, now she could.

Clothes presented small difficulty. Jane, like most London girls employed in smart places, could produce a miraculous effect of fashion for a ridiculously small outlay. Nails, make-up and hair were beyond reproach.

Jane went to Le Pinet.

Was it possible that now, in her thoughts, ten days at Le Pinet had dwindled down to one incident?

An incident at the roulette table. Jane allowed herself a certain amount each evening for the pleasures of gambling. That sum she was determined not to exceed. Contrary to the prevalent superstition, Jane’s beginner’s luck had been bad. This was her fourth evening and the last stake of that evening. So far she had staked prudently on colour or on one of the dozens. She had won a little, but lost more. Now she waited, her stake in her hand.

There were two numbers on which nobody had staked, five and six. Should she put this, her last stake, on one of those numbers? If so, which of them? Five, or six? Which did she
feel?

Five—five was going to turn up. The ball was spun. Jane stretched out her hand. Six, she’d put it on six.

Just in time. She and another player opposite staked simultaneously, she on six, he on five.


Rien ne va plus
,’ said the croupier.

The ball clicked, settled.

‘Le numéro cinq, rouge, impair, manque.’

Jane could have cried with vexation. The croupier swept away the stakes, paid out. The man opposite said: ‘Aren’t you going to take up your winnings?’

‘Mine?’

‘Yes.’

‘But I put on six.’

‘Indeed you didn’t. I put on six and you put on five.’

He smiled—a very attractive smile. White teeth in a very brown face, blue eyes, crisp short hair.

Half unbelievingly Jane picked up her gains. Was it true? She felt a little muddled herself. Perhaps she
had
put her counters on five. She looked doubtingly at the stranger and he smiled easily back.

‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘Leave a thing lying there and somebody else will grab it who has got no right to it. That’s an old trick.’

Then with a friendly little nod of the head he had moved away. That, too, had been nice of him. She might have suspected otherwise that he had let her take his winnings in order to scrape acquaintance with her. But he wasn’t that kind of man. He was
nice
…(And here he was sitting opposite to her.)

And now it was all over—the money spent—a last two days (rather disappointing days) in Paris, and now home on her return air ticket.

‘And what next?’

‘Stop,’ said Jane to her mind. ‘Don’t think of what’s going to happen next. It’ll only make you nervous.’

The two women had stopped talking.

She looked across the gangway. The Dresden china woman exclaimed petulantly, examining a broken finger-nail. She rang the bell and when the white-coated steward appeared she said:

‘Send my maid to me. She’s in the other compartment.’

‘Yes, my lady.’

The steward, very deferential, very quick and efficient, disappeared again. A dark-haired French girl dressed in black appeared. She carried a small jewel case.

Lady Horbury spoke to her in French:

‘Madeleine, I want my red morocco case.’

The maid passed along the gangway. At the extreme end of the car were some piled-up rugs and cases.

The girl returned with a small red dressing-case.

Cicely Horbury took it and dismissed the maid.

‘That’s all right, Madeleine. I’ll keep it here.’

The maid went out again. Lady Horbury opened the case and from the beautifully fitted interior she extracted a nail file. Then she looked long and earnestly at her face in a small mirror and touched it up here and there—a little powder, more lip salve.

Jane’s lips curled scornfully; her glance travelled farther down the car.

Behind the two women was the little foreigner who had yielded his seat to the ‘county’ woman. Heavily muffled up in unnecessary mufflers, he appeared to be fast asleep. Perhaps made uneasy by Jane’s scrutiny, his eyes opened, looked at her for a moment, then closed again.

Beside him sat a tall, grey-haired man with an authoritative face. He had a flute case open in front of him and was polishing the flute with loving care. Funny, Jane thought, he didn’t look like a musician—more like a lawyer or a doctor.

Behind those two were a couple of Frenchmen, one with a beard and one much younger—perhaps his son. They were talking and gesticulating in an excited manner.

On her own side of the car Jane’s view was blocked by the man in the blue pullover, the man at whom,
for some absurd reason, she was determined not to look.

‘Absurd to feel—so—so excited. I might be seventeen,’ thought Jane digustedly.

Opposite her, Norman Gale was thinking:

‘She’s pretty—really pretty—She remembers me all right. She looked so disappointed when her stakes were swept away. It was worth a lot more than that to see her pleasure when she won. I did that rather well…She’s very attractive when she smiles—no pyorrhoea there—healthy gums and sound teeth…Damn it, I feel quite excited. Steady, my boy…’

He said to the steward who hovered at his side with the menu, ‘I’ll have cold tongue.’

The Countess of Horbury thought, ‘My God, what shall I do? It’s the hell of a mess—the hell of a mess. There’s only one way out that I can see. If only I had the nerve. Can I do it? Can I bluff it out? My nerves are all to pieces. That’s the coke. Why did I ever take to coke? My face looks awful, simply awful. That cat Venetia Kerr being here makes it worse. She always looks at me as though I were dirt. Wanted Stephen herself. Well, she didn’t get him! That long face of hers gets on my nerves. It’s exactly like a horse. I hate these county women. My God, what shall I do? I’ve got to make up my mind. The old bitch meant what she said…’

She fumbled in her vanity bag for her cigarette-case and fitted a cigarette into a long holder. Her hands shook slightly.

The Honourable Venetia Kerr thought: ‘Bloody little tart. That’s what she is. She may be technically virtuous, but she’s a tart through and through. Poor old Stephen…if he could only get rid of her…’

She in turn felt for her cigarette-case. She accepted Cicely Horbury’s match.

The steward said, ‘Excuse me, ladies, no smoking.’

Cicely Horbury said, ‘Hell!’

M. Hercule Poirot thought, ‘She is pretty, that little one over there. There is determination in that chin. Why is she so worried over something? Why is she so determined not to look at the handsome young man opposite her? She is very much aware of him and he of her…’ The plane dropped slightly. ‘
Mon estomac
,’ thought Hercule Poirot, and closed his eyes determinedly.

Beside him Dr Bryant, caressing his flute with nervous hands, thought, ‘I can’t decide. I simply cannot decide. This is the turning point of my career…’

Nervously he drew out his flute from its case, caressingly, lovingly…Music…In music there was an escape from all your cares. Half smiling he raised the flute to his lips, then put it down again. The little man with the moustaches beside him was fast asleep. There
had been a moment, when the plane had bumped a little, when he had looked distinctly green. Dr Bryant was glad that he himself was neither train-sick nor sea-sick nor air-sick…

M. Dupont
père
turned excitedly in his seat and shouted at M. Dupont
fils
sitting beside him.

‘There is no doubt about it. They are
all
wrong—the Germans, the Americans, the English! They date the prehistoric pottery all wrong. Take the Samarra ware—’

Jean Dupont, tall, fair, with a false air of indolence, said:

‘You must take the evidences from all sources. There is Tall Halaf, and Sakje Geuze—’

They prolonged the discussion.

Armand Dupont wrenched open a battered attaché case.

‘Take these Kurdish pipes, such as they make today. The decoration on them is almost exactly similar to that on the pottery of 5000
BC
.’

An eloquent gesture almost swept away the plate that a steward was placing in front of him.

Mr Clancy, writer of detective stories, rose from his seat behind Norman Gale and padded to the end of the car, extracted a continental Bradshaw from his raincoat pocket and returned with it to work out a complicated alibi for professional purposes.

Mr Ryder, in the seat behind him, thought, ‘I’ll have to keep my end up, but it’s not going to be easy. I don’t see how I’m going to raise the dibs for the next dividend…If we pass the dividend the fat’s in the fire…Oh, hell!’

Norman Gale rose and went to the toilet. As soon as he had gone Jane drew out a mirror and surveyed her face anxiously. She also applied powder and lipstick.

A steward placed coffee in front of her.

Jane looked out of the window. The Channel showed blue and shining below.

A wasp buzzed round Mr Clancy’s head just as he was dealing with 19.55 at Tzaribrod, and he struck at it absently. The wasp flew off to investigate the Duponts’ coffee cups.

Jean Dupont slew it neatly.

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