Part 2, Chapter 2 Summary
The Evidence of the Secretary
The second person Poirot interviews is Hector MacQueen, Ratchett’s secretary. Poirot reveals Ratchet’s true identity as Cassetti, the infamous leader of the kidnapping ring which was responsible for Daisy Armstrong’s death. MacQueen is shocked and appalled, claiming he would not have worked for the man if he had known the truth. MacQueen is particularly incensed, as his father was the district attorney who tried the Armstrong case. He believes that Ratchett got what he deserved for committing such a heinous crime against such good people.
Poirot notes that perhaps MacQueen is incensed and passionate enough to have killed Ratchett himself; but since MacQueen has not shown any excessive sorrow at Ratchett’s death, Poirot does not think the secretary committed the murder. Poirot explains that he learned Ratchett’s identity by a scrap of a letter found in Ratchett’s compartment, which may or may not have been a careless act. Poirot asks MacQueen to describe his whereabouts last night from the time he left the dining car.
MacQueen explains that he went back to his room, read for a time, got off the train (and back on) at Belgrade, and then talked to the English colonel in the compartment next to his. He and Colonel Arbuthnot talked for some time before he was summoned by Ratchett to take some notes for letters Ratchett wanted MacQueen to write. After he told Ratchett goodnight, he found the colonel still standing in the corridor; so MacQueen invited Arbuthnot to his compartment for drinks and discussion. The colonel did not leave until nearly two o’clock, which is when MacQueen asked the conductor to make up his bed. He smoked a cigarette just outside his door as he waited. The only time he left the carriage was when he and the colonel got off the train at Vincovci, but it was so frigid they immediately reboarded.
They went out through the door nearest the restaurant car. It was locked when they got out, and MacQueen suspects neither he nor the colonel relocked the door to the carriage when they came back inside. Finally, Poirot asks MacQueen if his compartment door was open when he and the colonel talked. It was. Poirot wonders if MacQueen saw anyone pass by his compartment after the train stopped at Vincovci and before Arbuthnot left for the night. MacQueen remembers that the conductor walked by once, coming from the direction of the dining car. A woman also passed by once, headed in the opposite direction. MacQueen did not recognize her and cannot specifically describe her. When Poirot asks if MacQueen saw the woman return from, presumably, the bathroom, MacQueen thinks for a moment and then says that he does not think she did. Poirot ascertains that MacQueen does not smoke a pipe and usually travels first class, in an adjoining room to his employer; however, on this trip, all the first-class berths were taken. Poirot dismisses MacQueen.