News Chronicle, Sept 23rd
GRUESOME DEATH – MILKMAN FINDS BODY
A London milkman had a nasty surprise as he made his rounds early yesterday morning. Taking a short cut down an alleyway that leads to Sandhurst Square, Davy Partridge, 39, heard the sound of groaning from under a pile of rubble. When he investigated, he found the body of a young man, barely alive. The milkman ran into nearby Whitehaven Mansions and asked them to send for an ambulance, but it was too late for the unfortunate victim. His identity is unknown, and police have yet to comment on whether they are treating the death as suspicious.
Miss Lemon was waiting for me on the steps when I arrived at Baxter Payne and Lepper, landlord of Whitehaven Mansions, the following morning. As I reached for the knocker, the door opened. A young man in a grey sports jacket come out in something of a hurry, almost knocking me over in the process.
“I say!” I expostulated in protest. The boy turned briefly, waving a hand in what seemed an apology, and hurried on. Then he turned again, more slowly this time, and stared at the two of us, before walking away thoughtfully. As we watched him, the door opened wider.
“Captain Hastings?” A young woman wearing a felt hat stood in the doorway. “Please do go on in. Mr Payne is expecting you. Up the stairs, then first door on the right.” After we had entered, she herself left, closing the door behind her.
We found the designated office easily enough. It was drably furnished. At the far end, under a large sash window, a somewhat florid gentleman was seated behind a desk covered in papers.
“Come in, come in,” he said, “Michael Payne.”
I introduced ourselves.
“Ah. Miss Lemon, of course. We meet at last.” Miss Lemon shook his proferred hand somewhat stiffly. She was looking at Mr Payne as if trying to memorise his features.
“Please do sit down. I would offer you some tea but Alice has just gone out for her break.” It did occur to me to wonder how Alice could have needed a break when the offices had only just opened. Mr Payne extracted a file from the multitude on his desk.
“I understand that you wish to renew the lease on 21, Whitehaven Mansions, but in your name.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. There is a long waiting list for those apartments. If it had been M. Poirot renewing, that would be another matter entirely. He was a long-standing and valued client.” He turned to Miss Lemon. “I did mention to you that we had had enquiries about that particular flat. Frankly, I am surprised that it is still in use. I would have thought that Poirot’s executors would begrudge the expense of paying rent for an apartment that was not being utilised.”
I explained that the estate had employed me to sort through all of Poirot’s papers and that most of the necessary documents were there. I added that much of the information contained within them was highly confidential; it was imperative that they were sorted through carefully, as some of them touched on matters fundamental to the maintenance of national security.
“Isn’t everything these days,” said Payne drily. “Could you not just remove the files and take them somewhere else, to peruse at your leisure?”
“Well, not easily. They are in a fitted item of furniture some twenty feet long.”
“Ah, yes, the famous filing system. I remember when M Poirot asked whether he could have it fitted. A few years ago now…” He paused, rubbing his chin with his hand.
“I’m sorry about the difficulties this will bring, but I must insist that you vacate the premises with in the week.”
“A week!” I protested.
“There is a clause within the lease which states that, in the event of the death of the occupier, we will make reasonable provision for the clearing of personal effects, but can then provide whatever notice we deem fit.”
He turned to Miss Lemon, who had not said a word since we had entered the building.
“M Poirot has been dead for some four months now, which is reasonable provision in anyone’s book,” Payne smiled, handing her an envelope. “We have accepted an offer this morning, and this is an official letter asking you to leave.”
A thought struck me.
“Would the offer happen to have been made by the young man we passed on the way in?”
Payne looked at me coldly. “As it happens, no,” he said. “Not that it is any of your business.”
I reddened. “What if we offered to – er – pay a higher rent? A much higher rent?”
“Gazumping, now, are we? You can offer what you like but we will not accept it. That is not how we work.”
“But where are we going to find another apartment like that one in a week?” I asked.
“I thought you might ask that. As it happens, we have one available in Whitehorse Mansions, not one mile away. Very similar, almost a home from home – that is, if it had been your home. Would you care to see it?”
Miss Lemon put the letter in her handbag and clicked it shut.
“No, thank you, Mr Payne,” she said. We will not be availing ourselves of your kind offer. Good day to you.” She stood up. Payne proferred his hand again, but she ignored it and left the room. As I followed her, Payne sat down again, the unrenewed lease still in his hand.