“At the heart of the crime is always the victim,” Poirot said. “Before anything else I must learn more of this man.”
“Aristarchos? I don’t really know a lot about him,” Gabrielle said. “He was an important man, I know that much. He made speeches to the Assembly and was in charge of some official thing or other. From what I hear he was an honest man.”
“You say that as if it was a rarity, Mademoiselle.”
Gabrielle smiled. Her face seemed to light up and I was struck once again by how remarkably attractive she was. “In Athens I guess it is. Most of the politicians here would steal the last obol from the bowl of a blind beggar. Aristarchos had a reputation as being about as incorruptible as any Athenian gets. I never spoke to him myself. Xena and I don’t often get to meet that kind of person. We mix more with soldiers, prostitutes, pirates, innkeepers, thieves, and bards.”
“And with myself, who combines all those things in one amazingly talented package,” put in Joxer. Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. “Uh, except the prostitute thing, that is,” Joxer hastily corrected himself. “And I’m not an innkeeper either.”
Poirot ignored the by-play. “Then tell me, Mademoiselle Gabrielle, why do they accuse Mademoiselle Xena of his murder?”
“Mainly because of how he was killed, I guess,” Gabrielle replied. “The word is that he was slain by a nerve pinch to the neck. That’s not easy to do. It needs a lot of grip strength and some very special training.”
“I am familiar with many of the methods of the murderer,” Poirot said, “but this is not one of which I have heard before.”
Gabrielle opened her right hand in a claw shape and made a squeezing gesture. “It’s a technique for killing sentries silently,” she explained. “You use one hand to pinch the side of the neck in a special way. I’m nowhere near strong enough. Not a lot of people are. I don’t know of anyone in Athens with the strength and training. One or two of the Spartans, I think, and the champion warrior of the Theban Sacred Band, and that’s about it for Greece. Siavash the Persian could do it, I know, but Xena killed him at the Battle of the Eurymedon.”
Poirot raised a hand and caressed the tip of his moustache with one finger. “The points most crucial in the murder investigation,” he mused, “are Motive, Means, and Opportunity. Your friend possessed the means. You do not know of anyone else in Athens who has those skills, but that does not mean that there is no such person. To look for one, I think, would be the good starting point for my investigation.”
“I could ask around, see if any of the Athenian hoplites can do that move,” Joxer offered.
Poirot favoured the young man with a very slight smile. “That would make the contribution positive,” he said. “Do so, then, but have a care.” He turned his gaze back to Gabrielle. “What of Motive? There must be a reason why the Athenians believe that Mademoiselle Xena would wish to slay this man. Unless they have seized her merely because she is not a citizen, and, if that is the case, then we can have little hope of the trial fair and just.”
Gabrielle shuffled in her seat. She stared down at the remnants of her fish as if it was performing some fascinating manoeuvre. “I mentioned that the Athenians had declared Xena to be an enemy, right? And that they pardoned her after we helped them beat the Persians? Well, when the Assembly debated her pardon, it was Aristarchos who spoke out against her. He wanted her to stay outlawed.”
“I see,” Poirot said. “A slender motive, perhaps, but it is one. However if he was, as you say, an honest man in a society where many are dishonest, I suspect that someone else may have had the motive far more compelling. Do you know of any other cause for enmity between this man and your friend?”
“I don’t think so,” Gabrielle replied. “If they ever met face to face it was when I wasn’t around.”
“That brings us, Mademoiselle, to Opportunity,” Poirot went on, “for to kill someone one must meet them. Except with the arrow or the sling, perhaps, but in this case that has not the relevance. I would like to see the scene of the crime. Also it would be useful for me to talk to Mademoiselle Xena herself. A matter of some difficulty, if she is in the cell of the dungeon, but to Hercule Poirot difficulties are there merely to be overcome. To what authority must we apply ourselves that we may enter the prison?”
“And, rather importantly,” I put in, “be allowed out again afterwards.”- - - - -
Poirot dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief. “This weather, it is not the most pleasant for scrambling across the rocks like the goat of the mountains,” he complained.
He was exaggerating considerably. There was a perfectly acceptable path and we had gone only a short distance up the hill. It was hardly comparable to an ascent of the Matterhorn. In fact a one-legged man on crutches had overtaken us and was continuing onwards with no apparent difficulty.
“Come, Poirot, look on the bright side,” I cheered him. “At least you don’t have to drag an enormous slab of marble, unlike those fellows.” I gestured towards where teams of workmen hauled upon ropes connected to such a stone block.
“Ah, yes,” Poirot said. “The construction of the Parthenon. A great moment in history, my friend.”
“They’re going to take rather more than a moment,” I said. “A matter of some years, I would think.”
“Indeed,” said Poirot. He turned to our Athenian escort. He was a slave in the service of the magistrates of the city and we had purchased his services for the morning. “It was near here that the body of Monsieur Aristarchos was discovered, is that correct?”
“That’s right,” said the man. “Some of the workmen found him when they arrived for work.”
Poirot sighed. “I fear I will learn little from examining the scene,” he said. “Too much time has passed and there have been too many people backwards and forwards. Tell me, the men who pull the rocks, are they slaves or free men?”
“They could be either,” the Athenian replied. “Probably slaves. Mainly the unskilled labour is done by slaves and the stonemasons and craftsmen are free citizens.” He pointed up the hill. “Kallikrates there would be able to tell you more,” he said. I realised that he was indicating the one-legged man. “He’s the one who organises all the labour for the construction.”
Poirot nodded slowly and a tremor in his moustache indicated to me that he had seen or heard something that he regarded as significant. I had no idea what it might be. “Slaves and free men work together, then, in your city?”
A crease appeared between the Athenian’s eyebrows. “Of course. Is it not so where you come from?”
I opened my mouth to tell him that we did not have slaves in our native environment but something in Poirot’s expression told me to keep silent.
“I wish merely to be sure of the facts,” Poirot said. “I shall talk to this Kallikrates, then, if he can spare me the time.”
We ascended further up the hill to where Kallikrates was organising a mob of men into teams. There was no immediate opportunity to talk to him and so we simply stood and waited. I occupied myself in looking at the surroundings, at the work that was in progress, and at the lifting frames that seemed to serve as cranes.
I studied Kallikrates himself, of course, as no doubt did Poirot. He was an extremely big man, probably over six feet tall, and the breadth of his shoulders was quite remarkable. The arms that gripped the wooden crutches were bulging with mighty muscles. His right leg was that of an athlete. His belly, however, bulged out below the barrel of his chest. His left leg ended above the knee.
When eventually we were able to talk to the man he was brusque and uncooperative. I could hardly blame him. He was obviously busy. Poirot exerted all his charm and managed to extract a few answers to simple questions. Yes, Kallikrates had known the murder victim. Aristarchos had been the chief assistant to the city’s Supervisor of Finance and had been responsible for authorising the payments to Kallikrates’ labour gangs. Yes, Aristarchos had visited the work site on a number of occasions, including on the day before his body was discovered. No, Kallikrates had no idea why Aristarchos might have returned to the area during the night. Was there anything else?
“Tell me, Monsieur Kallikrates,” Poirot concluded, “how was it that you lost your leg?”
Poirot was capable of being amazingly blunt and, frankly, tactless. I am sure that no Englishman would have asked such a question of a stranger. Kallikrates did not seem to take offence but there was definitely an edge to his voice as he replied. “In battle against the Persians. I have no more time for your questions, foreigner. My men must be set to their tasks.”
“Certainly. I shall disarrange you no more, Monsieur,” Poirot said, and we departed.- - - - -
We returned to the inn for a mid-day meal and there met up once more with Gabrielle, with Miss Lemon, and with the young scoundrel Joxer. Miss Lemon had been carrying out an important task for Poirot during the morning and she made her report during the meal.
It had been wise of Poirot to ask Miss Lemon to accompany us on this strange mission. The women of the Athenian upper classes did not mix with men except in certain circumstances. Poirot himself would never have been able to question Eumelia, the widow of Aristarchos, and it is doubtful if she would have agreed to speak to Gabrielle, who was the companion of the woman accused of Aristarchos’ murder. Miss Lemon, however, had been granted an interview with Eumelia, and her account of the conversation was unemotional and undoubtedly accurate.
Much of what Miss Lemon related seemed unimportant and irrelevant to me. Poirot often seized upon such details and constructed his case around them but on this occasion I saw no signs that would indicate to me that he had spotted an important clue. He did, however, show obvious interest when Miss Lemon told of a quarrel that Aristarchos had engaged in shortly before his death.
“This was with Lykourgos, she said? The very hoplite that we spoke to upon our arrival in the city?” Poirot stroked his moustache, teasing the ends to sharp points, and nodded slightly. “And the cause of this quarrel?”
“She told me that her husband had criticised Lykourgos for taking advantage of visitors to the city,” Miss Lemon revealed. “He was taking his own unofficial toll, several times the true value, and keeping the money for himself.”
“As he tried to do upon your arrival,” Gabrielle reminded us.
“This Lykourgos, he is perhaps a skilled warrior?”
Gabrielle nodded and opened her mouth to speak. Joxer pre-empted her.
“He is,” the young man told us. “I spent the morning at the docks and I spoke with men there who serve as marines when the Athenian navy makes war. I started a discussion of who they thought was the greatest warrior in all of Athens – my own self excluded, of course.”
“Of course,” Poirot agreed.
“Lykourgos was one named as a contender,” Joxer continued. “Not, perhaps, the one who would have won a vote. Zosimos of Piraeus was the name most mentioned. Others spoke of Nikomedes and of Kleisthenes. But Lykourgos had his supporters.”
I remembered the way the man had released his spear, caught a thrown coin, and returned his hand to the spear shaft before the weapon had begun to fall. “Could he have performed the neck pinch?” I asked.
Joxer shrugged. “When I introduced the topic into the conversation the only name mentioned was that of Xena,” he admitted. “I cannot say. But Lykourgos is a well trained fighter, and strong. It is possible.”
“There is no-one in this city who could stand before Xena in battle,” Gabrielle said, “but there are some half dozen who could make her work for her victory. Lykourgos is one of them.”
Poirot toyed with his moustache again. “It would be the coincidence most remarkable if the very first person that we met upon our arrival at this city was in fact the murderer we seek,” he said. “Still, such coincidences happen. I must speak with the man again. He did not strike me as the type to murder, but our meeting it was most brief.”
“Have you considered that the murderer might have left the city?” I asked. “The crime was committed several days ago, after all.”
Poirot shook his head. “This was not the sort of crime from which the perpetrator flees,” he said. “It is possible, perhaps, but unlikely. No, I am sure that the very reason for the murder was so that someone could stay in Athens. There was no robbery. No-one has spoken of any affair of passion. Aristarchos was slain so that he could not speak out about some matter financial. I am convinced of that.” He turned back to Miss Lemon. “His wife, she did not mention anything else of interest?”
“I gather that he did not discuss his business responsibilities at home,” Miss Lemon said. “I’m afraid that I can’t really add anything to what I have already told you.”
“Thank you, Miss Lemon, you have performed in a manner most satisfactory,” Poirot said. “Oh, this city, it presents such difficulties to the investigator. There are no proper police, only slaves charged merely with keeping order in the streets. No medical examiners. Such a lack of method! If only someone had thought to take measurements of the finger-marks upon the neck of the deceased.” He pushed aside his plate. “The next step,” he said, “is for me to see the other important person in this case. The accused. To the prison we shall go without further delay. I am eager to make the acquaintance of this Xena, warrior princess.”