A/N: Please don’t kill me over the casting and age discrepancies! I simply couldn’t think of a better lineup given the available characters and the time period. This is largely based on the 1974 version, and I borrowed Poirot’s monologue from it, though I picture David Suchet (my favorite Poirot) in place of Albert Finney, and one or two lines have slipped in from the book, along with at least one from A Murder Is Announced.
By San Antonio Rose
November 3, 1935
Simplon Orient Express
A snowdrift between Vincovci and Brod, Yugoslavia
Hercule Poirot looked at the collection of evidence in front of him. The remains of the recovered note that read “Remember Mary Winchester.” The white kimono with the scarlet dragon, placed in his luggage. The conductor’s uniform that had turned up in the luggage of Princess Dragomiroff’s maid, with a button missing—from threads that had been cut, not torn or worn. A sketch of the bizarre drawing found under the body of Samuel Ratchett, alias Cassetti... a devil’s trap, Hardman and Turner had called it. A sample of the smudge of sulphur also found on the floor near the body, along with the candy wrapper and the handkerchief that both seemed to belong to Princess Dragomiroff. Another sketch, this one of the design freshly burned into the victim’s wrist pre-mortem, perhaps some kind of occult seal. The cruel-looking, bizarrely-engraved Bowie-style knife that had turned up in Mrs. Hubbard’s sponge-bag. Dr. Constantine’s observation that the twelve blows had all been struck from different angles, though all were struck with similar strength and almost identically deadly accuracy, and once or twice the knife had been twisted before being pulled out again.
And he wondered if it had been only his imagination that Ratchett’s eyes had flashed yellow for a moment when Poirot had refused to protect him.
But there were too many clues, too many contradictions, too many convenient alibis. Too many suspects in the Stamboul-Calais coach. They cannot all be in it! he thought.
Once the passengers were gathered once more in the dining car, Poirot surveyed them carefully. Sam MacQueen, Ratchett’s Stanford-educated secretary. Rufus Turner, Ratchett’s valet, who acted like his position was a temporary indignity. Dean Hardman, the Pinkerton man. Pamela Barnes, a governess leaving Baghdad for a new post. Col. Robert Singer, the man who loved her. Ellen Hubbard, the chatty American widow. The fair-haired Count André Harvelle and his wife Joanna. Miss Greta Ohlsson, whose story of being a missionary to Africa was only slightly less plausible than her Swedish accent. Princess Dragomiroff, an elderly Russian exile, and her American maid Missouri Mosely, whose attitude was wholly unlike that of the lady’s-maids Poirot had known in England or on the Continent. Antonio Foscarelli, a mechanic too Italian to be believable. And Jacques Novak, the conductor who seemed entirely too dispassionate about everything, especially the death that occurred right under his nose.
Poirot had the niggling sense that he was still missing something regarding motive, given the devil’s trap and the sulphur. But he knew he was right about everything else. So he began his customary monologue with the simple solution to Ratchett’s murder, forcing the evidence to fit an explanation regarding the crime having taken place an hour earlier than previously supposed and the mysterious assassin in the stolen conductor’s uniform having made his escape at Vincovci, before the train became stuck in the snowdrift. As he had expected, Bianchi objected.
“I said, ‘Here is the simple answer,’” Poirot replied. “There is also a more complex one. But remember my first solution, when you have heard the second.”
Bianchi and Dr. Constantine looked pleased. The passengers did not.
“Let us assume what is perfectly possible: that the mysterious stranger with his convenient pass-key did not exist. We know that the communicating door, between the Athens and the Calais coach, was locked regularly every night after dinner. The murder must then have been committed by some person or persons in this coach and therefore at present in this dining car.
“Let us not for the moment answer the question ‘How?’ but the question ‘Why?’ which will tell us how. It was not surprising that every one of you should have heard of the notorious Winchester case, the kidnapping and house fire that left an entire family dead twenty-five years ago to the day—mother, father, and elder son killed by the nursery fire, younger son murdered when the kidnappers realized that the mother’s family would not ransom him. Even those of you who were only children at the time recalled having heard about it from your parents. But I confess to a mild surprise when M. MacQueen, the first passenger whom I interrogated, admitted under emotional stress that he had actually known Mme. Winchester—albeit very slightly.” So slightly, in fact, that his story had about it the air of memories handed on by an older sibling—MacQueen could have been no more than six months old at the time—but Poirot did not doubt its authenticity.
Princess Dragomiroff began coughing, perhaps as an attempt to divert Poirot’s attention from the young giant slouched against the far wall of the dining car.
But Poirot ploughed ahead. “Was MacQueen lying when he denied ever knowing that Ratchett was Cassetti? Or did he become Ratchett’s secretary as part of a deliberate plan to avenge the death of Mme. Winchester? And did this plan involve other avengers? Or was his presence on the train a pure coincidence? Only by interrogating the other passengers could I hope to see the light, but as I questioned them, the light, as Macbeth would have said, thickened.”
He was about to continue detailing the others’ lies and evasions when Miss Barnes and Missouri exchanged a look and nodded to each other, and suddenly the mood shifted. Shoulders and spines straightened. Hands moved toward concealed weapons. The entire line-up of suspects went from looking like a group of strangers assembled at random to looking like a unit of well-trained militia—all, that is, except for the princess, who was still coughing indignantly.
Hardman nudged her. “Give it up, man. We’ve been made.”
She looked up at him for a moment—and then suddenly Princess Dragomiroff’s appearance morphed into that of a man in his late 30s with slicked-back light brown hair. Poirot stared, Bianchi’s mouth fell open, and Dr. Constantine swore in Greek.
The former princess tutted. “Really, Doctor,” he said with an American accent—Nashville, if Poirot was any judge—and an impish smirk. “Watch your language. There are ladies present.”
Eleven of the twelve other suspects gave a derisive snort at the same time. Jacques simply looked puzzled.
“Hey, you actually look pretty good in basic black,” MacQueen quipped.
“Nah, it’s the toque that makes the outfit,” Hardman jibed.
The former princess huffed. “Funny.”
“Wh-who-who are you?” Bianchi stammered.
Hardman started to answer, but the former princess cut him off with a glare and spoke for himself. “Loki. Call me Loki.”
Hardman and MacQueen rolled their eyes, and Jacques looked disappointed. And Poirot decided that for once it would be better not to know everything. Loki’s right name was one mystery he was happy to leave unsolved.
No sooner had he thought that than Missouri chuckled. “Honey, you wouldn’t believe him if he told you.”
“That’s right. I’m psychic. So’s Pamela.”
Miss Barnes smirked. “You’ve got most of it right, Mr. Poirot. But there are a few crucial pieces you’re missing.”
Poirot drew in a steadying breath and nodded sharply. “Bon. Perhaps, then, you will be so good as to enlighten us.”
Everyone looked at Foscarelli, who nodded. “Guess we’d better start by giving you our right names,” he stated, his over-the-top Italian accent gone. “The news reports got a lot wrong, Mr. Poirot, and so did the police. I’m John Winchester. This,” he pointed to Hardman, “is my son Dean. And this,” he pointed to MacQueen, “is my other son Sam.”
Poirot nodded again. “That much I knew. Who was it that was buried in your stead?”
“Gino Foscarelli and I served together during the Spanish-American War. Bobby was also in our unit, and we met Rufus in Cuba as well. When the war was over, Gino and I went back to Lawrence, went in together to open a machine shop. After Mary and I got married, he moved in with us. He got to the nursery before I did, died trying to get her off the ceiling.”
“And who were the children who died?”
“My cousins,” replied Miss Ohlsson, her not-quite-authentic Swedish accent replaced by a very authentic Minnesotan one. “Mark and Christian were visiting for a few days, and Mary put Mark and Christian in Sam’s room and put Sam in with Dean.” She snorted indelicately. “All the damn demon saw was a six-month-old in Sam’s crib. Didn’t care who it was—until he got away with Chris and found out he had the wrong kid.”
“That is no way to speak of the dead, Mlle. Ohlsson.”
“It’s Campbell. Gwen Campbell. Sam and Dean are my third cousins on Mary’s side.”
“Pardon, Mlle. Campbell. Even so, Cassetti was unquestionably evil, but—”
“It was not Cassetti who killed Mary Winchester,” interrupted Jacques.
“Was it not?”
“No. Gwen is correct. Cassetti was possessed by the demon Azazel. Mary interrupted him, and he pinned her to the ceiling and burned her to death.”
Poirot suddenly found himself wondering if he was on the right continent. And yet it would explain so much—the flash of yellow in his eyes, the sulphur, the devil’s trap....
Miss Barnes started nodding. “Yep, you’re on the right track, Mr. Poirot. His lawyer, Crowley, was also a demon. We have our suspicions about the judge, too, but it could have been simple corruption, or it could just have been a case of the Lawrence police not doing their jobs—or rather, not knowing how to do our job.”
“And what job is that, Mlle. Barnes?”
“Hunting. And yes, my name really is Pamela Barnes, and I really am in love with Bobby Singer. He just happens not to be a commissioned officer with an impending divorce, and I happen not to be a governess, any more than Sam’s a secretary.”
“Although I really did study at Stanford,” Sam Winchester added, “until Azazel ordered one of his underlings to murder my girlfriend three years ago today.”
Poirot turned to the young man. “Then how were you able to enter his employment? Surely a demon is not so easy to deceive.”
“Demons can’t read more than surface thoughts, Mr. Poirot. Loki was able to mask even those for us.”
“Indeed?” Poirot looked at Loki.
Loki looked surprised that Poirot was surprised. “Hellooo? Trickster!”
“And why should you get involved in this affair?”
Loki’s face hardened. “I’m a friend of the family, all right? Let’s leave it there.”
“He’s not the only one,” Dean Winchester stated. When Poirot turned to him, he added, “Not the only supernatural member of the team, I mean.” He pointed to Jacques. “Meet Castiel, my guardian angel—literally.”
Poirot and Bianchi crossed themselves at the same time. “But... how did you...” Bianchi was still having trouble speaking properly. “Why did you lie?”
“I did not lie,” Castiel replied placidly. “Jacques Novak is in fact the man you employed. He is my vessel.”
Bianchi burst into a flurry of flustered Italian that made Castiel raise an eyebrow and Loki laugh uproariously.
“And since we’re all coming clean,” said Countess Harvelle, who was suddenly also American, “I should explain that we’re not really married.”
Poirot raised an eyebrow. “This, too, I had suspected. Is your name then not Joanna Harvelle?”
“Oh, I’m really Jo Harvelle. It’s only André... who isn’t André.”
“Name’s Ash,” explained the faux count with a Southern drawl. “I’m here for technical support. Guess you could call me Jo’s adopted brother.”
Dean chuckled. “And since Jo’s my girl, you better keep it that way.”
Ash gave him a sloppy salute in reply.
“You’re lucky I let you anywhere near her, Dean,” Mrs. Hubbard stated.
“Yes, ma’am, and I don’t forget it,” Dean replied.
And another piece of Poirot’s deduction was confirmed. “I see, Mme. Harvelle, that you are most protective of your daughter.”
Ellen Harvelle lifted her chin in acknowledgement. “I run a bar, Mr. Poirot. It’s a gathering place for hunters. I’ve got good reason to look out for Joanna Beth.”
“Mom, I can look out for myself,” replied Jo.
Ash snickered, Dean coughed, and Sam rolled his eyes. Bianchi braced himself against the wall to keep from fainting.
Poirot nodded thoughtfully. “So. We have the husband of the murdered woman, her sons, and her distant cousin; we have two friends of M. Winchester from his service in the Army; we have an angel and a Trickster who are ‘friends of the family,’ so to speak. Mme. Harvelle, what is your interest in the case?”
“Same as Rufus and Bobby’s,” Mrs. Harvelle shrugged. “John and his boys needed backup. Jo and Ash insisted we come along.”
Miss Barnes nodded. “Same.”
Missouri’s face was grim. “Mary Campbell was a retired hunter, Mr. Poirot, and an old friend. I don’t know what Azazel had against her, but I’m as happy as John is to see the damned thing dead.”
“You claim to be a psychic, Mademoiselle. And yet you appeared to be surprised by my appearance on the train.”
John Winchester answered for her. “Neither Missouri nor Pamela is capable of seeing the future. Sam, on the other hand....”
“I had a vision,” Sam stated. “Azazel wasn’t expecting you, but we were—at least, some of us were; Missouri didn’t quite believe the vision was authentic until you showed up for real. But that’s why we set up the charade with the twelve of us stabbing him and the conductor’s uniform and everything. I mean, there was a certain poetic justice to it with the jury parallel, but Dean and I would have been happy to stab him twelve times each. Guess it wasn’t enough to throw you off the track, though.”
“No,” Poirot replied. “Not completely.”
“There’s a gun that kills demons,” John continued, “but nobody’s seen it since the 1860s—rumour is that it’s owned by a hunter named Elkins, but he wouldn’t reply when I wrote him. Bobby’d heard there was a demon-killing knife somewhere, though, and Rufus finally traced it to Baghdad. We didn’t know if it would kill Azazel on the first blow or not, but Dean suggested we just keep stabbing him in the heart as many times as it took. So the plan was set. We rehearsed it on the way out and split up in Istanbul. Bobby and Pamela tracked down the knife. Missouri mixed up the herbs we needed to knock him out; Sam and Rufus drugged Azazel; Castiel saw to the devil’s trap; and... Loki took care of the binding sigil to prevent the demon from escaping Cassetti.”
“And what justice is there in killing the host along with the demon?”
Singer shifted uncomfortably, but Turner spoke up for the first time. “Cassetti’d been possessed for twenty-five years. He was probably already dead. But not only that—Azazel chose him because Cassetti was already planning to kidnap Sam and kill him, leave the body to be discovered after the ransom was paid. We know as much from the trial. Cassetti deserved to die, Mr. Poirot. It was just his luck to be turned into a demon’s meatsuit before man’s justice caught up with him.”
“And you could not simply exorcise him?”
“No,” replied Castiel. “The danger was too great.”
“You don’t understand,” said Dean, leaning forward. “Yellow-Eyes wanted Sam for a reason. He was going to try to use both of us to free Lucifer from Hell, and to do that, he needed to do something to Sam when he was exactly six months old, maybe even raise Sam himself. That’s why he went with Cassetti’s plan. But instead he grabbed Christian, who didn’t fit the profile. Since that plan didn’t work, he hid—so well even Dad couldn’t find him. Once he showed up again, he’d had twenty-two years to come up with Plan B, and the fact that he had Jess killed proves that he’d found one, and it still involved us. We don’t know why. But we had to kill him before he started the end of the world.”
Poirot’s eyebrows shot up. “And you know this because?”
“Ah. Again this notion of ‘hunting’—what is it you hunt, M. Winchester?”
“Your worst nightmares. Ghosts, vampires, werewolves, demons, shapeshifters, rawheads, zombies, you name it, we’ve killed it.”
“And why you?”
“Somebody has to,” said Sam quietly.
“Everybody gets into it somehow,” Singer added. “Not many are born to it, like the Campbells. For some, it’s about revenge. For others, it’s about guilt. Some just like killin’, but they don’t make too many friends. But all of us—” here he indicated the other passengers—“do it, at least in part, because there are innocent people who need to be protected.”
Dean nodded. “Saving people, hunting things....”
“The family business,” he and Sam finished at the same time.
“You were a policeman, Poirot,” said Miss Barnes. “You understand that desire. The difference is, there’s no due process for the supernatural. There’s no time, and even if there were, what court could try a werewolf for eating hearts?”
Poirot supposed she had a point but returned, “So you deliberately attempted to mislead me into believing that the murder had been committed before 1.15, when in fact it was after your little comedy had played itself out, closer to 2.00, that all of you—”
“Except for me,” Ash put in.
“—returned through Mme. Harvelle’s compartment to stab this man to death.”
Castiel crossed the car in three quick strides and loomed over Poirot, his intense blue eyes boring into the detective’s. “This was not murder, Hercule. Dean has told you the whole truth. Had we not acted, Azazel would have done everything within his considerable power to begin breaking the seals on Lucifer’s cage in order to trigger the Apocalypse. We could not let that happen.”
“Cas,” Dean called. “Personal space.” As Castiel backed away, Dean continued, “Sorry about that, Mr. P. We’re still gettin’ him used to interacting with humans other than us.”
“We’re at war, Poirot,” said the eldest Winchester. “This was a pre-emptive strike.”
“But hey,” Dean shrugged, “if this is too... buckets of crazy for you, then look at it the way you were looking at it a minute ago: a self-selected jury of interested parties taking the law into their own hands to avenge four murders when the justice system failed us. Either way, you’re lookin’ at a mess—twelve killers, one accomplice, bunch of fake passports and stolen identities and fraudulent ticket purchases. Hell, three of us are supposed to be dead. The FBI would have a field day.”
Poirot sighed. “A repulsive murderer has himself been repulsively, and perhaps deservedly, murdered. But in which of the ways that we have heard?” He shook his head and sat down beside Bianchi. “Signor Bianchi, it is for you as the director of the line to decide which solution we shall offer to the police at Brod. I confess, I am in two minds.”
Bianchi ran a shaking hand over his nose and mouth. “I... I think... the first explanation is most plausible. We have the uniform to show to the police, and if we have the uniform, there must have been a man in it. The police will be satisfied with that. You agree, Doctor?”
“Of course I agree,” said Dr. Constantine. “Anything else is... too fantastic to be believed.”
“Then,” said Poirot, “having placed my solution before you, I have the honour to retire from the case....”