Back to the days of the genteel crime - Editor
by Norman A. Rubin
Madame Edythe Picardy was greatly respected by all the staff at the Clermont Spa. The manager of the watering place bowed and scraped as he attended to the bejewelled widow and saw to her comfort. When she arrived for dinner the headwaiter rushed to arrange her seat; the wine waiter was near at hand to pour her favorite red wine from the wineries of Verien of Gascony.
Royalty from princes to counts, all in reduced circumstances, held Madame Edythe Picardy in great regard; the philanders admired her collection of baubles as they complimented her; impoverished artists who spent their last franc to come to the spa looked towards this charming woman as a patron to their talents.
Yet, their advances did not captivate Madame Edythe Picardy, as she was still mourning for her wealthy husband, a Monsieur Albert Picardy, albeit his demise was in the past year. The devotees respected her grief and they worded their phrases carefully when they paid their complimentary attention.
But, Madame Picardy was only infatuated with M. Alphonse, an esteemed minister in the government. The portly official was quite knowledgeable and the staid yet humourous way he expressed himself fascinated her. In turn she gave him her arm to be escorted to the dining room to glittery functions at the spa. “A gentleman just like my dear Albert,” she mused as she tripped lightly beside the delighted official.
"Bon jour madame, Monsieur Albert Picardy at your command," addressed the dapper little man to the well dressed matron seated at a fashionable cafe, "we have a rendezvous, n'est-ce pas?"
Monsieur Picardy, was seen as a well-presented gentleman with impeccable manners that flattered gullible widows, rich of course. He wooed them with compliments, a single token flower, and kisses of affection upon their cheeks. Three poor dears in the past succumbed to his charming ways and they accepted his proposal and the gold ring. After a year or so of blissful marriage to this delightful and caring man, somehow, each in turn, met with an accidental death. And, off course, Monsieur Picardy benefited in the inheritance.
Monsieur Albert Picardy, despite his shortness in stature and slimness in form had for some reason or other had an attraction for rich widows. Maybe it was his Poirot features of a cherubic face with sparkling dark eyes, a slight patrician nose, and a twirling dark moustache above smiling lips. His dyed black hair was always slick and parted straight in the middle.
"Non, non, dear madame do no rise. Pardon moi, with your permission I would like to be seated near you."
Monsieur Picardy spoke politely as he leaned on a Malacca cane and doffed his Panama hat with a flourish.. Upon the lady’s consent he settled himself in a comfortable seat at the table opposite his quarry, the widow Edythe Pountaine by name whose husband was in his day well versed in finance.
"Edythe my dear what is the matter." Monsieur Picardy addressed his wife Edythe in a quiet corner in the lobby, "I saw that you were flushed with great temper when I returned from my daily stroll. Lah, lah, lah the magnificent day was nearly darkened as I noted that you were having a heated discussion with the hotel manager. My dear you should leave all matters with the staff into my capable hands."
"Yes dear!" Edythe spoke in agreement, "but, but.."
"No buts my dear," addressed Monsieur Picardy to his wife. As he stared at her he looked at her youthful and radiant appearance despite her later years. Yet the good man was puzzled as he stared into her cheerful features that was full of vigour and health. He had to suppress a feeling of anger as she laughingly shook her still blondish hair.
"I see you are dressed for bathing in the sea. Now run along and enjoy yourself."
Monsieur Picardy watched as the trim sportily dressed figure tripped lightly on her slim legs through the lobby. Thoughts mixed with puzzlement were etched on his face. As he rumbled in his mind he pictured his first wife Felicia, a dowdy maiden who always doted on her collection of expensive jewellery. "Alas in her youthful middling years a tragic accident befell her."
"Yes, it was quite easy to loosen the rusty screws to that balcony rail," mused Monsieur Picardy, "Quite easy! She simply leaned on the iron bar, as it was her usual habit during our holiday. It was the eighth floor of that hotel at Riviera, an old-fashioned establishment that had an enchanting view. Ahh well, it was for the best as that terrible year of marriage to her was a bore."
Monsieur Picardy's thoughts were interrupted by the apologetic words of the manager of that reputable hotel on the Costa Brava, "My dear sir I would like to extend my apologies. Never in our fifty years have we experienced such a mishap. Our maintenance man has attended to the matter immediately and tightened the bolts to the iron rods of your room balcony.” With that notice the hotel manager bowed and scraped and left with the words, "I trust Mrs. Picardy is having an enjoyable and restful holiday.”
Monsieur Albert Picardy was able to convince his darling Edythe to have a codicil in both their wills that stated that upon the demise of either the husband or the wife all property should be left to the sole survivor. Payment into the hands of a shyster saw to the agreement, which was notarized officially.
"You see my dear it was quite simple to write up this codicil. After all we have only each other's love and trust!" chirped Monsieur Picardy after they returned home from the lawyer's office, "the idea came to me after that terrible incident at the hotel during our holiday. Cela va sans dire!"
"Ohh you are so wise and right that 'it goes without saying," Edythe spoke in agreement."
The next hour or so the couple made themselves comfortable in the living room in their apartment on the top floor of a seven-story building. Monsieur Picardy had to attend to his so-called affairs in Lyons at the beginning of their union; both M. Albert and Edythe agreed to make their home in that apartment block of that city. Within time the charm of Edythe enabled them to embrace new friends.
"Lah, lah lah, I forgot to go to the chemist to fill my prescription for my heart medicine," exclaimed Monsieur Picardy.
Monsieur Albert Picardy rejected Edythe's offer to make the errand herself. With a 'no, no' to his lips he left the comfort of his easy chair and went to the bedroom to ready himself for the walk to the chemist.
Then with 'au revior' to his lips, Monsieur Picardy opened the door to the apartment. Edythe heard the gentle closure of the door with a bit of worry etched in her mind. "Ohh dear, I should of insisted in going to the chemist."
But, Edythe's concern was justified as the reappearance of Monsieur Picardy who looked quite ill and seemed thoroughly exhausted. The good woman saw his apparent sickly condition and immediately assisted him in removing his coat and hat and helping him to his chair, which M. Picardy accepted it with a note of gratefulness.
"My dear Edythe, I'm sorry for all the bother. Lah, lah what a nuisance I am! I do need my medicine...!"
"Albert do not fret. Give me the prescription and I will hop to the chemist. It’s only a few blocks and the walk will do me good."
Upon the closing of the portal, Monsieur Picardy practically jumped from the comfort of his armchair. He went to the door and patiently waited to hear expected sounds. His patience was rewarded when within a half-hour or so he heard the scream of sirens and the hub-bub of a gathered crowd. M. Picard rubbed his hands in satisfaction and returned to his repose.
Thoughts flowed through his mind, "Dear Katherine, you were such a lovely creature. For over two year you provided me with a comfortable home in your spacious apartment in Lyons after we tied the bonds. You were quite understanding to my suggestion that I should be the sole beneficiary in your will. Yes, when you saw the provisions that was afforded to you upon my demise in my last will and testament, there was no question to your duty to me.
"Pity, yes it was such a pity to lose you in such a terrible mishap. Those boorish maintenance men forgot to post notice that the lift was in repair. You weren't able to take note, as the entrance hall was dark that late afternoon.
Ohh, that terrible moment when the gendarmerie knocked on the door and told me the tragic news. Yes, I wept for my loss under the sympathetic eyes of the authorities. Yes I really wept and spoke in my sorrow of being taken ill that day and not accompanying you."
Monsier Albert Picardy sat tensely on his armchair and stared upon the door to the apartment as if he was expecting a knock on the wood. But only silence greeted him. After three-quarters of an hour he waited to hear the sound, but finally heard the slight noise to the turning of the brass door handle as Edythe stepped into the flat.
"My darling, I'm sorry I took so long to return from the chemist. I had to use the stairs as I noticed the lift was in repair.
Monsieur Albert Picardy stared at his beloved Edythe as if he saw a ghost. He stuttered as he tried to speak.
"My dear Albert don't strain your heart even though it was dreadful news. Now, my dear, I will bring you a glass of water so you can take your capsule.”
Monsieur Albert Picardy was quite cheerful the folowing evening, "My dear Edythe I have cooled a bottle of Verien red wine, a gold bouquet, to celebrate out third wedding anniversary. Before we take of our evening repast we will lift a glass and toast our blessed union."
Madame Edythe was flushed in the cheeks as she heard the cheerful words of her husband. She fluttered in her movements but her spouse calm her with soothing words.
"Now, now my dear! Please arrange the dining table while I will see to the wine."
Monsieur Picardy bustled about at the liquor cabinet as he watched his wife set the table for the ceremonial dinner. M. Albert waited till Edythe left the dining room to attend to the preparation of the meal; the odour of fine cooking wafted from the kitchen into the dining room.
"Such a delicious aroma," murmured M. Picardy as he sniffed the air.
Then he busied himself in attending to the wine. Two crystal goblets were placed on the small counter. With a plunge with the corkscrew and a twist to the cork he quickly opened the bottle of Verien red wine. He poured the wine carefully into two glasses. As the wine trickled into the crystal goblets his mind reverberated in thought.
"Ahh, my dear Emmeline Verien you were so lovely and graceful. Pity, pity that you fell ill in your youthful years. That elderly doctor put your immediate demise as acute gastritis. There were no questions as to the cause of death. We followed the dictates of your last will and testament and cremated your body and the ashes were scattered on your beloved vineyard in the Gascony valley.
"Lah, lah, the nurseryman at the florist told me that a few grains of white helleborin on the leaves will rid my precious plants from the ravages of the aphids. He warned me to be careful, as it was quite poisonous. Poor Emmeline I didn't wish to see you suffer. Ca, the good Lord ended your misery quickly and mercifully.
Monsieur Picardy stopped in his reverie when he noticed that the glasses were filled with the red wine. Then he took a small vial labeled with the name of a plant nursery from a pocket of his satin lounge coat. M. Picardy turned his sight to the room and was satisfied that Edythe was not present. He opened the vial and shook a few grains into one of the filled crystal.
He took the poisoned glass of red wine, swirled it about till the soluble grains mixed in the fluid. M. Picardy was careful to place the crystal glass at Edythe's place at the table and a wineglass of tasty red at his setting.
Within a few moments Edythe took her place at the dining table sided with her husband. A smile was etched on her lips as her laughing blue eyes expressed the fond attention of her husband. Suddenly she jumped from her chair.
"My dear Albert your glass is chipped! Here take my glass and I will take another one."
Before Monsieur Albert Picardy was able to say 'lah, lah, lah', Edythe placed her glass alongside his setting. The woman graciously placed another filled crystal quite quickly at her place and returned to her seat. Then she gripped the stem and lifted the glass high.
"To many years of happiness!"
But Monsieur Albert Picardy simply stared at his glass of red wine. Beads of sweat formed on his creased forehead. His head swirled as he looked into the clear ruby bouquet and he saw faces in the eddy - dowdy Felicia, lovely Katherine, and graceful Emmeline. Then he felt the heavy beat of his thumping heart in an erratic rhythm. He grasped the collar of shirt as he gasped for air. Suddenly the beat of his heart stilled and he collapsed on the table with his head on the spilled red wine.
M. Alphonse, the astute minister lifted his glass of Verien red, "My dear Edythe to our lasting friendship. Too long I lived alone since the passing away of my beloved Carole....."