An outbreak of kleptomania at a student hostel was not normally the sort of crime that aroused Hercule Poirot’s interest. But then he saw the list of stolen and vandalized items: a stethoscope, some old flannel trousers, a box of chocolates, a slashed rucksack, and a diamond ring found in a bowl of soup. He congratulated the warden, Mrs. Hubbard, on a “unique and beautiful problem.”The list made absolutely no sense at all. But, reasoned Poirot, if this was merely a petty thief at work, why was everyone at the hostel so frightened?
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Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie
Hercule Poirot frowned.
‘Miss Lemon,’ he said.
‘Yes, Monsieur Poirot?’
‘There are three mistakes in this letter.’
He sounded shocked. Miss Lemon, a proud and professional woman, never made mistakes. She was never ill, never tired, never upset, never inaccurate. Order and method had been Hercule Poirot’s favourite words for many years. With George, his perfect manservant, and Miss Lemon, his perfect secretary, order and method shaped his life.
And yet, this morning, Miss Lemon had made three mistakes in typing a very simple letter. The world had stopped turning.
Hercule Poirot held out the offending document. He was not annoyed, he was just confused. This was something that just could not happen – but it had!
Miss Lemon took the letter. ‘Oh, dear, I can’t think how I did that – well, perhaps I can. It’s because of my sister.’
‘Your sister?’ Another shock. Poirot had never known that Miss Lemon had a sister.
Miss Lemon nodded. ‘Yes, most of her life she has lived in Singapore. Her husband was in the rubber business there, but he died four years ago. There were no children, so when she came back to England I found a very nice little flat for her but -‘ Miss Lemon paused. ‘Well, she was lonely and she told me that she was thinking about taking a job.’
‘Looking after a hostel for students. It is owned by a woman who is partly Greek and she wanted someone to manage it for her. It’s a big old house and my sister was going to have a very nice flat -‘
Miss Lemon stopped and Poirot made an encouraging noise for her to continue.
‘I wasn’t sure about it, but my sister likes to be busy and she’s always been good with young people.’
‘So your sister took the job?’ Poirot asked.
‘Yes, she moved into 26 Hickory Road about six months ago and she liked her work there.’
Hercule Poirot listened. So far, the story of Miss Lemon’s sister had been disappointingly ordinary.
‘But for some time now she’s been very worried…