Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Story 197: Misadventure on the Simplon-Orient Express

(Not exactly based on a true story – just based on the combination of seeing the trailer for the latest version of Murder on the Orient Express and a dream I recently had)

(Spoiler Alert: the solution to the mystery is included below)

(As the train is ready to depart from the Stamboul (Istanbul) station, The Count joins “Mrs. Hubbard” at her table in the dining car; both speak very low to each other)
“Mrs. Hubbard”: We shouldn’t be seen together, we’re all supposed to be strangers here – and don’t you dare use my real name.
The Count: I know, I know, but I wanted to ask the moment immediately before the train embarks on our fateful journey: is it too late to back out now?
“Mrs. Hubbard”: You want to kill this guy as much as anybody else here!
The Count: In theory yes, and he absolutely needs killing, but since I’m really here more for my wife’s sake than mine, this method of revenge hasn’t been sitting too well with me lately.  You think maybe instead we could use the first half of his M.O., and just blackmail him forever?
“Mrs. Hubbard”: Nothing less than his blood spilled by all of his living collateral victims will do, and don’t even think about – oh hell, what’s he doing here?
(The Count turns to where she is looking and sees Hercule Poirot, The World’s Greatest (Totally Not Fictional) Detective™, daintily taking a seat at a table in the back of the car and nodding at “Mrs. Hubbard” and The Count in extremely polite, missing-nothing acknowledgement of their staring at him)
The Count: (Turning back to “Mrs. Hubbard”) That’s it, we’ve been made, let’s call the whole thing off.
“Mrs. Hubbard”: (Hisses) Absolutely not!  I’ll come up with a convoluted backstory for us if we’re grilled later, but we won’t be, because we’ll be long gone soon after our guy is dead, and The World’s Greatest (Totally Not Fictional) Detective™ or not, M. Poirot could never in a million years figure out that it actually was all of us who did it!
The Count: I won’t take that bet.
(The train begins to leave the station)
“Mrs. Hubbard”: (Staring sharply out the window) Hang on – we’re missing someone.
The Count: You sure?  You missed this last guy until he got here.
“Mrs. Hubbard”: I saw him waddle aboard but didn’t know who he was until now.  No, there’s 13 of us and I only counted 12 in our group who came on.
The Count: Sure you’re not including our target in your original count?
“Mrs. Hubbard”: That would make 14 of us!
The Count: Oh.  Right.  So who’s missing?
“Mrs. Hubbard”: (Looks up for a few moments to review her mental list) It’s The Secretary/Governess.  Confound it: undone by the underpaid help! 
The Count: We still can go ahead and do it without her, right?  She’ll only miss out on the justice, is all.
“Mrs. Hubbard”: (Glares at him) It has to be all of us, or instead of being glorious, it’ll just be one big old mess!
The Count: Oh dear.
(Back at the Stamboul train station, The Secretary/Governess is speaking agitatedly with a Railway Employee)
The Secretary/Governess: You don’t understand, I got stuck in traffic, and I can’t get on just any old Orient Express, it has to be that Orient Express!
Railway Employee: Well, miss, you may have to settle for the Occidental Express then, yuk-yuk.  (Is choked by The Secretary/Governess)
The Secretary/Governess: How many stops before it hits the snowy middle of nowhere?!
Railway Employee: (Chokes out) Two!  Sofia and Belgrade!
The Secretary/Governess: When’s the next train to Sofia?!
Railway: Employee: Not until tomorrow!
The Secretary/Governess: (Releases him and runs away) Oh it’s all ruined, ruined!  (She pulls a man out of his car and drives it to Sofia)
(At Sofia, she screeches to a halt at the train station)
The Secretary/Governess: (To a Railway Employee who looks suspiciously like the one at the Stamboul train station) What time does the Orient Express arrive here?!
Railway Employee: In the past: 12 hours ago, to be precise.
The Secretary/Governess: Blast!  (Drives off)
Railway Employee: How vulgar.
(At Belgrade, she screeches to a halt at the train station)
The Secretary/Governess: (To a Railway Employee who looks suspiciously like the one at the Sofia train station) Did the Orient Express arrive yet?!
Railway Employee: Been and gone, reeking of evil and misguided justice.
The Secretary/Governess: You never saw me!  (She speeds off to the snowy middle of nowhere on bald tires)
(Once in the mountains, The Secretary/Governess commandeers a passing dog sled team and travels for a day until she crashes into the train itself, which is at a standstill under a mini-avalanche.  After picking herself out of the snow, she scrambles on board with her suitcase, sheds her furry winter wear, and runs through a passenger car until she finds an empty stateroom she can break into.  Sorting herself out, she makes her way to the dining car to subtly insert herself into the group of passengers as if she had always been there; she arrives to find everyone assembled in a meeting and now staring at her)
The Secretary/Governess: Good morning, all!  Sleep well?
(Everyone looks sick, except for the man standing at the other end of the car who is facing the rest)
Poirot: Ah, mademoiselles!  Thank you for joining us!  I was just explaining to the fine people here in minute detail how they all conspired to execute a kidnapper/murderer/destroyer of lives who had escaped the law, and it seems that you missed all the momentous activity that took place here last night!  It has been a very busy 24 hours, n’est-ce pas?  (He nods to the others, who guiltily nod back)
The Secretary/Governess: I see.  Well, since you all went ahead and did everything without me, I’ll be shoving off then.
“Mrs. Hubbard”: (Stands and points at her) You tardy laborer!  You messed up our beautiful symmetry!
Poirot: Compose yourself, madame, it was already “messed up” without la petite femme’s input.  You all thought you could fool me, The Great Poirot™, eh?
The Valet: We didn’t do it to fool you, we did it to kill him!
Poirot: Mais oui, but the games, the intrigue, the “pretending to be strangers when we actually all belong to the same murder club” – such paltry attempts to deceive Poirot’s Little Grey Cells™!
The Count: We did all that to pretty much deceive anybody else who was here and not in our group; just our luck it was you and not Inspector Lestrade.
Poirot: Exactement!
The Secretary/Governess: Sooooo... seeing as I technically didn’t, you know, kill anybody – can I go now?
Poirot: Ma chère, you have hit upon the denouement: since justice truly has been served, I, Hercule Poirot, The Greatest Detective of All Time and The Embodiment of Ultimate Justice™, have decided – to let you all go and use the story you made up that some stranger boarded the train and killed the victim, since of death he was most deserving.
“Mrs. Hubbard”: You are most wise and just, monsieur.  Especially since we outnumber you 13 to 1 if you’d tried to have us arrested.
Poirot: D’accord.